New telecom law a conspiracy against digital Bangladesh
The move to enact a tough law for telecom and ICT industry is nothing but a 'conspiracy' against the present government's vision for a 'digital Bangladesh', speakers said at a discussion yesterday.
The prime minister must intervene in the passage of the bill, they said.
Some people inside the administration have started conspiring against the vision for a digital Bangladesh soon after the prime minister announced it. The proposed telecom bill is planned to misguide the government, they added.
The proposed 'Bangladesh Telecommunication (Amendment) Act 2010' was placed in parliament on June 13, and is awaiting passage during the current budget session.
A nongovernmental organisation, D.Net (Development Research Network), organised the roundtable on "Enabling environment for the growth of the telecom sector: Challenges and prospects" at the National Press Club in Dhaka.
Representatives from telecom, information technology, software makers, internet service providers and other IT-based services took part in the discussion.
Ananya Raihan, executive director of D.Net, and Barrister Tanjib-ul Alam of Tanjib-ul Alam and Associates presented two keynote papers on the possible implications of the proposed law. Asif Saleh, policy specialist of Access to Information (A21) programme of the Prime Minister Office, conducted the discussion.
Speaking on the legal aspects of the telecom bill, Tanjib-ul Alam said if the bill gets through, the regulator will be able to impose fine for any kind of activities by treating it those as wrongdoings. "Even for sending a wrong SMS, anyone can be penalised by the regulator."
He said the proposed bill contains 21 sections to fine telecom and ICT operators for different offences. The ceiling of a minimum fine is about Tk 1 crore, whereas the maximum is Tk 300 crore. Earlier the highest ceiling was Tk 10 lakh.
The regulator or telecom ministry can impose fine for any wrongdoing and the decision of fine imposition is not challengeable. "It is nothing but a new way of extortion from the telecom sector," said the lawyer.
He said such a tough law will only encourage corruption among the regulatory body.
In line with the proposed bill, the telecom ministry is going to take some major regulatory power from Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). However, the move has created much debate in the market as the ministry itself has three operators -- BTCL, BSCCL and TeleTalk.
Ananya Raihan said the present government formulated the BTRC, the independent regulatory body for telecom industry. But now it is going to share its power with the telecom ministry, which could question the efforts for ensuring a level playing field, he added.
He said the "repressive" stances of the law must be removed to make the business environment more conducive for second-generation growth.
Citing an example he said even a murderer can have a chance to appeal against the charge. But as per the proposed law, the telecom or ICT operators have no scope for appeal against any decision of the regulator, which violates human rights.
Asif Saleh said interaction between private and public sectors is crucial for resolving such a legal problem.
Mahmud Hossain, director of legal affairs of Grameenphone, said the proposed act also added a clause under which the regulator can change the operators' licence conditions without any consultation with the licensees. "Such a provision will become a risk factor for the sector for future investment."
He said the proposed bill has some good things as well. Inclusion of 'spectrum trading' is positive for the industry. But he urged the government not to go for a hefty bidding for awarding 3G spectrums.
"Such an unfriendly bill must be changed," said Hasanul Haq Inu, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on telecommunication ministry.
"I urge the prime minister to be careful about the conspiracy against her digital Bangladesh dream."
For imposing punishment there is penal court in Bangladesh. "I don't understand why the telecom act should add such clauses."
The parliamentary standing committee now scrutinises the bill.