Grameenphone and Robi’s clash with the telecom regulator became more heated yesterday after they were slapped with show-cause notices enquiring why their 2G and 3G licences should not be cancelled for their failure to pay unpaid dues unearthed by audit.
According to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission’s audits into the two operators’ books from their inception until December 2014, Grameenphone has Tk 12,579.95 crore pending and Robi Tk 867.24 crore.
Both the operators vehemently dispute the amounts and thus far have turned a deaf ear to the regulator’s repeated claims.
“This is public money and we have tried to realise it several times,” said Md Jahurul Haque, chairman of the telecom watchdog, while confirming sending the latest show-cause notices.
But the operators have wasted time in the name of consultation, which is not permitted in the telecom act, he said.
The BTRC has the authority to revoke licences to realise public money and also got the green light from the government to do so.
In the five-page-long notices, the BTRC asked the operators to reply within 30 days.
Both the operators confirmed they have received the notice and will reply within the stipulated timeframe.
“This notice is unjustified and yet another step by the regulator to refuse our invitation to seek an amicable solution related to a disputed audit claim,” said Grameenphone, the country’s leading mobile operator, in a statement.
The operator will evaluate the notice before considering its response.
“We will take necessary measures to protect the rights of the company, our shareholders and customers against unwarranted actions by the regulator,” it added.
Both the operators are insisting on arbitration against the audit claims as per Bangladesh Arbitration Act 2001, but the BTRC remains non-responsive, saying it would only act as per the Telecommunication Act.
If the two operators’ response is not satisfactory as per the telecom act, the BTRC can appoint an administrator to run the business so that the operation can run smoothly, said a top official of the telecom regulator.
Grameenphone and Robi officials said they have invested more than Tk 58,000 crore (over $7 billion) in Bangladesh and now their investments are at risk.
Industry experts said the BTRC move would send out a negative signal to the investors around the world about Bangladesh.
“BTRC has the right to what they have done, but did they consider the sustainability situation of the industry as well as foreign direct investment issue before sending out this notice? I am thinking the answer is ‘no’,” said TIM Nurul Kabir, a former secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh.
He also pointed out some issues in the audit claim.
“We found a huge charge as late fees -- this claim should be considered a crime. It was the BTRC’s duty to run audit from time to time but they did nothing in the first 17 years of the operators’ existence. And now, they are claiming thousands of crores of taka as late fees. It is unethical.”
Both the operators, which have 12.36 crore or 76 percent of total active mobile connections between them, are not getting any approval from the BTRC since July 22 for new services and packages and cannot import equipment to maintain their network.
Earlier on July 4, the BTRC had slashed Grameenphone’s bandwidth by 30 percent and Robi’s by 15 percent for non-payment of the dues -- enough to slow down their internet speed and raise the call drop frequency.
But the block on bandwidth was lifted on July 17 considering the inconvenience it was causing to subscribers.