Grameenphone subscribers can brace themselves for higher charges thanks to a set of decisions taken at a telecom division meeting yesterday -- a baffling move that ends up penalising customers in the government's bid to punish the dominant operator.
It was decided at the meeting, which was attended by Prime Minister's ICT Advisor Sajeeb Wazed Joy, that Grameenphone's minimum call rate will be increased as part of the restrictions of being declared a significant market power (SMP) operator.
Present in many countries in the world, including neighbouring India and Pakistan, SMP is a regulation that imposes restrictions on an operator once it corners a major share of the market. In Bangladesh, the SMP rule is triggered once an operator attains 40 percent of the subscribers, revenues and spectrum.
Earlier on February 11, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has declared Grameenphone as the country's first SMP operator considering its revenue share is more than 50 percent and customer share is about 47 percent.
“Without restricting the price none can check them. But we have not finalised how much the charge will increase,” Telecom Minister Mustafa Jabbar told The Daily Star.
Currently, the minimum call rate for operators is Tk 0.45 for each minute and after adding the value-added tax and other duties the charge goes up to Tk 0.54 for a minute to any operator.
However, Grameenphone is already charging higher than the market average at Tk 0.70.
The data charges might also be increased for Grameenphone.
Probed about the reason for penalising the customers, Jabbar said: “We have the mobile number portability facility, so if any customer thinks that the charges are not acceptable they can switch to another operator easily and there will be no problem.”
The meeting also decided to demand an improvement in service quality from Grameenphone, or else they will have to face a bar on acquiring new customers.
“Grameenphone is not bothering about its service quality.”
The BTRC will fix the other restrictions that Grameenphone will face in consultation with the government, he added. Earlier on February 18, Grameenphone was slapped with four restrictions by the telecom regulator as part of the penalties for becoming a SMP, which the operator challenged in court.
The BTRC had asked the operator to implement the restrictions from March 1, which include a ban on signing any exclusive deals with goods and service providers.
Currently, the vendors are allowed to extend offers to only Grameenphone customers, shutting out other operators from negotiating such deals.
The acceptable call drop for Grameenphone has been set at no more than 2 percent.
According to a market drive report run by the regulator in November 6 to 8, Grameenphone's call drop rate was found to be 3.38 percent, which is higher than its competitors.
The BTRC has asked Grameenphone not to conduct nationwide ad campaigns on the back of its dominance.
In the fourth point, the telecom watchdog has made it easier for a user to leave Grameenphone under the MNP facility.
Currently, if a subscriber wants to switch to a network they will have to stay with the new carrier at least for 90 days. But such subscribers can quit the Grameenphone network after 30 days.
Thanks to a court order in Grameenphone's favour, three of the four restrictions are not in effect.
The operator only has a ban on advertising, while the telecom regulator hammers out fresh restrictions.
BE TOUGH OF AUDIT ISSUES
The meeting also decided to be tough on Grameenphone's audit issues, just a day after the operator demanded the telecom watchdog withdraws claims of Tk 12,579.95 crore as they are “unfounded and without any legal basis”.
THIRD SATELLITE & SECOND SUBMERINE CABLE
At the meeting, Joy also instructed the initiation of the processes to launch country's second satellite and third submarine cable.
The country's first communication satellite Bangabanghu-1 has thrown to orbit on May 12 last year but is yet to find any business.
The two submarine cables are on course to reaching full capacity within the next couple of years.
The ICT advisor also asked the telecom regulator to take preparations to launch 5G by 2021.
Telecom Secretary Ashoke Kumar Biswas; BTRC Chairman Md Jahurul Haque; Bangladesh Communication Satellite Company Limited's Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood, and five other government-owned telecom companies' managing directors attended the meeting.