Mistakenly changing taka values to dollars, the telecom regulator gave the High Court incorrect information about digital advertisement spending on different social media by three mobile operators, The Daily Star has found.
Following a court order, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) on June 23 told the court that three mobile operators -- Grameenphone, Robi and Banglalink -- spent over $1.04 billion, equivalent to a stunning Tk 8,744.20 crore, on digital campaigns in the last few years.
A copy of the BTRC report was obtained by The Daily Star.
According to documents submitted to BTRC by the telcos, copies of which were also obtained by this newspaper, the three actually showed a combined spending of Tk 435 crore.
Robi, in its report to the BTRC, mentioned that it had spent Tk 321.38 million on digital campaigns. When the BRTC prepared its report for the HC, it erroneously mentioned the amount as $321.38 million.
A top executive of the operator said that Robi had not given the telecom regulator any dollar figures as they always work with local agencies and pay them in takas.
BTRC also made the same error when calculating Banglalink’s spending. The telco said it had spent over “28.64 crore”, but the operator failed to mention whether the figure was in takas or dollars. BTRC took it to be in dollars.
Banglalink confirmed to this newspaper that the figure was to be in takas.
The BTRC also said market leader Grameenphone had spent over $433 million on digital advertisements between 2011 and 2018. GP’s report, however, showed the spending to be $4.58 million and Tk 336 crore, as they had spent in takas when using local agencies and in dollars when they dealt directly with the social media platforms.
Grameenphone has declined to comment on the issue.
Md Jahurul Haque, chairman of the telecom regulator, did not comment on the issue but referred their lawyer Alomgir Parvez Bhuiyan.
Contacted over phone, Alomgir said, “It was a mistake and we will place a prayer before the court so that it’s corrected.”
Muhammad Risalat Siddique, chairman of Analyzen, the country’s first ever digital and social media marketing agency, said the social media spending given by BTRC was absurd.
“Using all our sources from the industry, we can guesstimate that the number would not be so big. Our digital spending market size might be about Tk 2,000 crore annually and small players are leading from the front,” said Siddique.
He said small-scale e-commerce shops were the main sources of the spending.
The issue of digital campaign spending came up after a writ petition on it was filed by Barrister Humayun Kabir Pallab early last year. In it, he said that a huge amount of money was being spent on social media, but the government was not getting any taxes from it.
Later, an HC bench of Justice Moyeenul Islam Chowdhury and Justice Md Ashraful Kamal sought a report from the BTRC about mobile operators’ 2018 spending on Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yahoo, Amazon and other similar platforms.
Bangladesh Bank had also placed a report before the HC earlier, which showed that only six banks were used for sending money to Google and Facebook since 2014.
Of this value, advertisers used Bank Asia to send Tk 102.95 crore and five other banks also reported $3.8 million they have sent for this purpose.
Of the amount, Google Asia Pacific Pte Ltd got Tk 58.59 crore and $1.59 million, Facebook Ireland Limited received Tk 44.36 crore and $1.34 million and Ultimedia E Solutions pvt ltd, another platform, also received $298,000, reads the banking documents.
This time though, the telecos themselves had made the payments in both takas and dollars and the banks had shown the spending according to the currency used.