The government plans to introduce a uniform call rate for mobile phones to establish a level playing field for the country's telecom operators.
Currently, for each minute the operators charge Tk 0.35 to Tk 0.40 on an average for on-net (same network) calls and Tk 0.91 to Tk 1.05 for off-net (other network) calls.
The abolishment of the different call rates will create pressure on the mobile operators to improve their service quality to attract customers, Mustafa Jabbar, telecom and ICT minister, told The Daily Star.
The move will also save the customers from getting bill shocks when mobile number portability (MNP) is made available following its launch in August this year, the minister said.
With the MNP, people will not be able to identify whether they are making on-net or off-net calls as the service allows users to switch to a different operator without changing existing mobile phone numbers.
The plan has been taken in response to a directive given by Sajeeb Wazed Joy, prime minister's ICT affairs adviser.
The adviser made the call in a meeting in April with the officials of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), government high-ups and mobile phone operators.
Banglalink recommended the rate be fixed at Tk 0.45 a minute while Robi wants it to be Tk 0.55 a minute but the largest operator, Grameenphone, opposed the whole idea.
Grameenphone, which has over 6.70 crore customers, said on-net and off-net tariffs have been part of the industry for years.
Moreover, customer telephony usage patterns and the company's investment plans are based on the existence of such tariffs, said Mahmud Hossain, chief corporate affairs officer at Grameenphone.
“Such decisions should not be made arbitrarily, rather through a consultative approach to ensure that repercussions can be managed properly and customer problems can be minimised.”
However, Banglalink also proposed that the telecom regulator bring down the upper ceiling for mobile call rate to Tk 1.25 a minute from Tk 2 a minute.
The uniform call rate would not hurt the earnings of the operators and the government, Robi said in its presentation to the BTRC.
The gap in the on-net and off-net charges of different operators are distorting market competition and taking toll on the smaller market players, said Shahed Alam, executive vice president and head of regulatory affairs at Robi.
The MNP will further intensify market imbalance if the uniform call rate is not introduced, he said.
Md Jahurul Haque, acting chairman of the telecom watchdog, said they have received the operators' proposals.
“We will send our recommendation to the government soon to take a final decision,” he said.
Haque also thinks that customers would get bill shocks in absence of a uniform call rate once the MNP is introduced.
Last year, the BTRC conducted a study and recommended setting per minute off-net charge at Tk 0.45 and Tk 0.35 for on-net calls but the government did not pay heed to the call.
Among the neighbours, Sri Lanka was the last country to come out of the regime of different call rates in 2016 and Bangladesh might be the only country in the world now to use such rates, the BTRC officials said.