BTRC cracks down on rogue operators
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has launched a drive to crack down on the telecom value-added service providers that stealthily activate service on the phones of customers without their consent.
The regulator began its inquiry after subscribers alleged that they were charged for the services they did not subscribe to.
BTRC officials have already visited 11 of these companies, of which three were identified to have breached guidelines.
The three companies -- Win Miaki, Miaki Media, and Binbit Mobile Entertainment -- did not deposit their due portion to the BTRC's social obligation fund or maintain the regulations for one-time password activation.
They also failed to show documents on infrastructure sharing with network providers and audit reports.
As such, the three companies were fined Tk 1 lakh each.
Taneem Islam, a co-founder of Miaki Media, said that it was a technical issue that led to additional charges being made rather than any intention to embezzle money from the customer.
"The issue has been resolved. We submitted all the necessary documents and paid the fine to the BTRC as well," he added.
Officials of Win Miaki and Binbit Mobile Entertainment could not be reached for comments.
TVAS providers offer various services such as welcome tunes, voice messages, news alerts, missed call alerts, call block, call forwarding or diverting, music, videos, mobile games and streaming services, balance transfer, through mobile carriers under a revenue-sharing model and customers are charged by mobile phone operators.
The service providers must obtain consent from subscribers before activating any service. But they did not take such permission from the users in nearly 50 per cent of cases, according to the commission's previous probe into the allegation against two VAS providers.
The issue also prompted the BTRC to issue a letter to Grameenphone and Robi Axiata, two of the biggest mobile network providers in the country, for violating its licencing and TVAS guidelines.
"We have taken necessary actions according to the BTRC's guideline," said Md Hasan, the head of external communications at Grameenphone.
Shahed Alam, the chief corporate and regulatory officer of Robi Axiata, said that the company was always compliant.
"We have a keen interest to collaborate with the BTRC to ensure full cooperation with regulatory requirements, and the case of TVAS provider Miaki was no different," he added.
There are many customer complaints about TVAS, and so, the telecom regulator is taking steps to protect the interests of the subscribers, said BTRC Vice Chairman Subrata Roy Maitra.
"Operators were warned in the past, and the service was even discontinued for a while. They brought it back by pledging to be more careful about the accidental charges," he added.
Network providers can't avoid their liability with TVAS as they deduct the charges from customers' mobile balance. The BTRC has formed a committee to monitor the sector, Maitra said.
TVAS services were introduced in Bangladesh in 2010. Thanks to a huge increase in usage by 2016, a guideline was issued for the issuance of TVAS registration certificates.
At present, there are about 182 BTRC-approved TVAS providers that provide services through shortcodes, SMS, interactive voice response, wireless application protocol, and mobile apps.
In return for the service, network operators receive a portion of the money customers are charged. In the case of TVAS, the BTRC gets 6.5 per cent of the total revenue.
Mohiuddin Ahmed, president of the Bangladesh Mobile Phone Users Association, said the telecom regulator could not avoid the responsibility of unwanted VAS-related costs that customers had to bear.
He went on to say that two companies took away Tk 75 lakh from the customers without their knowledge.
"We appealed to the commission to take measures to return the money to the customers. We do not know what steps have been taken in this regard."
The BTRC took action against the companies mainly for the non-submission of audit reports and non-payment of 6.5 per cent revenue as required by the BTRC.
"The government should investigate whether any official of the commission is involved in these unethical activities. We also demand that the money collected from value-added services be returned," Ahmed added.