BTRC-Bangla Phone discord over optical fibre network
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has warned private telephone company Bangla Phone Ltd of cancelling its licence for installing 2000 kilometres of optical fibre network 'outside' its licensed area.
Bangla Phone, which practically operates as a phone company for other phone companies, however argues that the optical fibre network was installed as per provisions laid down in its 2004 licence issued by the BTRC.
The company says the optical fibre network is an essential infrastructure that had to be built in the eastern part of the country-- from Sylhet to Chittagong-- to serve its customers in its licensed area in North-East Zone of Bangladesh. And the whole installation was done following approval of the BTRC, it adds.
Sources said the BTRC took a conflicting stance on Bangla Phone after the change of government and appointment of its new chairman. The BTRC issued its first warning letter on May 31.
"Since then it has served Bangla Phone with several warning letters irrespective of replies, and stopped approving any network expansion work of the company," said one source.
Bangla Phone sources said till May the company was providing interconnection services using the optical fibre line to a dozen licensed phone and ISP companies including AKTel, Teletalk, Warid, BDCom, Asia Tel and BOL.
Bangla Phone has almost no direct subscriber in its leased area and its business has entirely concentrated on developing telephone interconnection facility.
After May, 28 new customers remain waiting to take Bangla Phone's services. "We need to install 200 multiplexor (a transmitter and receiver device required to connect the microwave linking the optical fibre line). But the BTRC is not approving this scheme arguing this will be used for illegal VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) operation, which is absurd," claimed a Bangla Phone official.
On May 31, the BTRC in a notice told Bangla Phone that it was given a Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) Operator Licence on June 22, 2004 to operate only for fixed telecommunication services in the North-East Zone of Bangladesh.
"But you have installed optical fibre network outside your authorised zone and also leased out the optical fibre network to other Operators/Organisations, which are clearly in violation of the licence condition and also Section 40(1) of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Act, 2001," the letter said, asking the company to explain within 30 days why its licence shall not be cancelled for this reason.
Bangla Phone responded to this notice defending its case in details on July 28.
The company said as per the PSTN licence, "The Licensee shall have a duty to interconnect, directly or indirectly, with all other licensees. In order to carry out the overseas traffic through the international gateway and NLD traffic through the long distance network outside its licensed zone, the Licensee shall pass the same through its own long distance network or leased line from other licensed or authorised operators providing NLD services on mutual agreement." In other words, the licence encourages the PSTN operator to install its own network outside its licensed area to ensure connectivity.
Bangla Phone further argued that Section 40 (1) of the Telecommunication Act did not bar leasing out the optical fibre network, rather it restricted unauthorised leasing out, which is not the case with the phone company, as the BTRC permits it to share or lease it out.
The company also noted that from time to time, it has taken approval of the BTRC while expanding its transmission capacity and leasing these out.
Meanwhile, the BTRC on July 25 notified Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) that under the telecom act, the BTTB will have to take prior approval of the BTRC for signing any deal with Bangla Phone to take service from the optical fibre line.
Then on August 2, the BTRC appeared not to have taken Bangla Phone's reply into cognisance and issued yet another warning in the same language to Bangla Phone.
Perplexed, the company authorities gave another reply, explaining its position and apologising to the BTRC "if" it had made any mistakes.
Sources said the BTRC is now thinking about imposing a financial penalty of several crore taka on Bangla Phone.
"The question is if installing the optical fibre line was such a grave crime that the BTRC would want to cancel Bangla Phone's licence, then why is it allowing the company to continue operating these lines? It is because there is nothing wrong in authorised installation of these lines," says an official. "There is no clear explanation why the BTRC and Bangla Phone remain stuck in a collision course."