Mobile phone operators have asked the telecom regulator to allocate some spectrum for free for the time being, reasoning that their network had become busier for a surge in data use amid the novel coronavirus-induced ongoing lockdown.
The carriers also requested Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) to exempt them from sharing revenue with the government at least for a couple of months so that they can tackle the fallout of the coronavirus.
Mobile carriers share 6.5 per cent of their gross revenue with the government.
The telecom sector is experiencing challenges similar to what all other areas of the economy are going through due to the coronavirus pandemic, according to the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB).
Mobile carriers are already observing trends in usage patterns that may leave a dent on their overall revenue, it said.
Last week carriers slashed data pack tariffs by up to 50 per cent following a request from the telecom regulator, which has resulted in data usage growth of around 20 per cent.
Although data usage is growing rapidly, data monetisation is still low for carriers, said SM Farhad, secretary-general of the association.
Over the last couple of days, voice calls have dropped by up to 20 per cent. This is particularly worrying, Farhad said.
"Mobile operators have discussed the matter with the commission but we have said that the BTRC does not have the authority to come up with a decision like it," said Md Jahurul Haque, chairman of the regulatory body, regarding the demand on revenue sharing waiver request.
"Their expectations are not unrealistic," he told The Daily Star.
Haque suggested that the carriers discuss the matter with policymakers. "In my personal view, only the prime minister can give a decision about it."
The BTRC, according to Haque, can do two things -- give some time to the operators to share the revenue and allow the revenue to be paid in installments.
Operators have sought 5 megahertz of spectrum from the 2100 band as customers are consuming at least 20 per cent more data in recent times.
The commission has the authority to allocate spectrum on credit but the operators will have to pay the price in line with the rate that has been determined by auction, the BTRC chief said.
"It is true that spectrum price is higher in Bangladesh but we have nothing to do with it. Only the government has the authority to revise it or give it to someone for free," Haque added.
The total number of mobile phone top-ups through retail channels has declined by around 20 per cent due to people limiting their movements, Farhad said.
Although telecom has been declared an emergency service during this crisis period, law enforcement agencies are imposing restrictions on top-up shops in some places as part of the nationwide lockdown and this is maybe due to the ignorance about the government directives, he said.
"These obstacles are hampering our retail operations, especially the top-up or recharge services."
The operators urged the law enforcers to extend their cooperation for the smooth functioning of the top-up stores and other recharge outlets.
Mobile operators are encouraging customers to avail top-ups through other options such as mobile financial services, electronic money transfers and mobile applications.