Grameenphone has taken delivery of huge volumes of network equipment without obtaining the approval of the telecom regulator -- a move that has run into a grey area on the legal front.
Subsequently, the telecom watchdog slapped the operator with a show cause notice last week.
“We will take action after going through the response of the operator,” Md Jahurul Haque, chairman of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), told The Daily Star on Tuesday.
The BTRC gave Grameenphone seven days to reply to the show cause notice. Today is the last day for replying.
Grameenphone has used a trick of the legal situation and released the equipment from the customs department, Haque said, adding that the country’s leading mobile carrier did apply before the commission for the no-objection certificate (NoC), which the BTRC never gave.
The tussle began on July 22 last year, when the telecom regulator decided not to give any kind of approval to Grameenphone and Robi related to roll out of new package or service or import of network equipment as it looked to pile on pressure on the operators to clear their dues.
The telecom watchdog maintains it is owed Tk 12,579.95 crore by Grameenphone and Tk 867.24 crore by Robi. The BTRC also sent a copy to the Bangladesh Customs under the National Board of Revenue and requested them not to release any equipment of the two operators.
As per the available documents of the commission, Grameenphone has imported five lots of equipment between May and June last year after taking prior permission from the regulator.
After the equipment arrived in Bangladesh, the BTRC’s regulatory bar halted the import procedure, said a top official of the regulator.
Meanwhile, the carrier on August 5 and August 27 applied before the commission and asked them to release their equipment considering customer service.
Besides, the apparatus was imported before the bar was issued, it said.
Both the applications were placed in two separate commission meetings on September 29 and November 11 and on both the occasions the operator requested for the applications to be placed in the next meeting for further consideration.
In the meantime, on October 17 a High Court bench issued a two-month injunction on the BTRC’s move to realise money it says Grameenphone owes the government and the letter the telecom watchdog had issued on July 22.
Then on November 24 last year the Supreme Court asked Grameenphone to pay Tk 2,000 crore out of the Tk 12,579 crore claimed by the commission by February 24. The HC order issued the previous month will continue if the amount is furnished.
Grameenphone is yet to pay the sum.
The operator placed the lawyer’s certificates of the HC order but did not place the full context and informed of their application for getting the NoC when releasing the network equipment, said a top official of the BTRC’s spectrum management division.
“We also want the best quality service from not only Grameenphone but also from other operators and encourage them to import the required equipment. But for doing that they also need to be compliant with the directives of the regulator and the government,” Haque said.
Grameenphone maintains it has followed the prescribed processes all along.
The operator approached the customs based on the orders provided by the Supreme Court on the disputed audit, it said in a statement.
“It is regrettable that the BTRC has chosen to issue a show cause notice on this matter disregarding the orders provided by the highest court of the country,” the statement added. Md. Mahfuzul Karim Majumder, director general of the BTRC’s engineering division, in a press conference on Thursday said because of the regulatory bar customers are facing service quality issues.
“There is no sign of the situation improving anytime soon as the top two players have been barred from importing equipment,” he added.
Earlier on July 4 last year, with the view to cranking up the pressure the regulator also slashed Grameenphone’s bandwidth by 30 percent and Robi’s by 15 percent for non-payment of the claimed dues. The decision was withdrawn after two weeks.