Mobile call volume dropped by 15 percent since the introduction of the minimum uniform call rate, as users attempted to minimise costs, industry insiders said yesterday.
However, earnings of mobile phone operators rose by five percent since the new rate of Tk 0.45 a minute came into force two weeks ago, they added.
The rate, which came into effect on August 14, affected many customers, as all the regular packages of the top mobile operators are now charging more than Tk 1.20 per minute.
Additionally, operators have also introduced a number of offers that are close to the minimum rate.
Shamrat Mandal, a mobile user, was charged Tk 2 yesterday for a 56-second call.
“This is robbery,” said Mandal, a student of a private university.
Another customer, Masum Murtuza, voiced similar complaints when he was charged Tk 3.18 by his operator for a call that lasted 1:28 minutes.
“My call charge has almost doubled,” he said in frustration.
Meanwhile, social media platforms have also been flooded with complaints made by subscribers.
Last week, a group of mobile phone users, under the banner of the Bangladesh Mobile Phone Consumer Association, formed a human chain in front of the National Press Club protesting the new call rate.
On the contrary, the government and mobile operators say that they had found that there was minimum impact on users.
Mustafa Jabbar, telecom minister, said the government was observing the situation and had found almost no impact, except in some cases where on-net customers, who call within a same network, saw an increase of call rate by Tk 0.08 to Tk 0.10 per minute.
However, Ghulam Rahman, president of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) said the decision went against the consumers directly and would benefit the mobile operators.
“I am doubtful whether the telecom regulator has carried out enough studies on this issue,” said Rahman, also a former chairman of the Anti-Corruption Commission.
He urged the regulator to fix the minimum charge at Tk 0.30 per minute at most, which might be logical as users were feeling the pinch of the new rate.
A number of senior officials of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) also criticised the move.
In the mean time, a top executive of a leading mobile operator said they found almost no impact on the costs to customers for voice calls.
Only four percent of the total subscribers base have been impacted by the new rate.
During Eid festivals, operators' earnings get a boost as people call more compared to the rest of the year.
It was no different this time, said a senior executive of a mobile phone operator.
The telecom regulator has asked the operators to provide feedback about the new rate.
NEW RATE TO FOSTER COMPETITION
Without naming the operator, Jabbar said one organisation was becoming so dominant that even the regulator couldn't rein it in by improving the regulation only and all the customers were going to it for the on-net facilities.
“So we need to break this situation and bring competition in the telecom service. The uniform call rate is one of the tools being used to stop it,” he said.
He added that customers who mostly call within the same network experienced a rise in cost, but their numbers were not that big.
Most of the customers make calls to different operators and are getting better prices, Jabbar added.
He said the government might have fixed Tk 0.40 per minute but it would not have been good in the long run. So, Tk 0.45 was fixed for the sake of competition.
Before the new rate, average charge was Tk 0.49 per minute for calls within the same network and it was Tk 0.91 for calls from one network to another.
Now, the average rate is Tk 0.53 and it will ultimately come down to Tk 0.49, according to operators.
However, it will take some time to know the real impact of the uniform rate and customers will benefit from the initiative after the launch of the mobile number portability (MNP), scheduled in October.
MNP enables subscribers to retain their mobile phone numbers when changing from one network carrier to another.
About the revised call rate, Grameenphone said it was still too early to assess the impact but it had experienced some reductions in usage patterns.
“We are now in the process of reviewing our price points across all packages to ensure the maximum value for our valued customers,” said Mahmud Hossain, chief corporate affairs officer of Grameenphone.
He said GP charges Tk 0.45 to Tk 0.47 a minute for a large portion of the calls.
Meanwhile, Robi said the freedom of customers had been enhanced compared to in the past.
For Robi, the number of off-net calls had increased by 20 percent since the new floor rate.
“Our customers are now realising that the price has actually come down and their initial misconception is disappearing,” said Shahed Alam, executive vice-president and head of regulatory affairs of the operator.
Banglalink said it hadn't seen any significant change in its revenue.
“We believe that through this change, mobile subscribers will get freedom to make hassle-free calls to any network and customers will appreciate this with the time,” Taimur Rahman, chief corporate and regulatory affairs officer of Banglalink, said.
“They will no longer need to use multiple SIMs and do not have to think about the network they are calling to.”
OPERATORS INCOME TO RISE
Earlier, the BTRC estimated that if the call volume remained the same, mobile operators would earn about Tk 12 crore every day in addition to their regular income.
Of the additional income, the government would get about Tk 2 to Tk 3 crore daily in value-added tax, supplementary duty and revenue sharing.
On average, mobile users make 92.5 crore minutes of local voice calls a day, according to the BTRC.
All the four mobile phone operators implemented the new tariff rate, ranging from Tk 0.45 to Tk 2 per minute.
Previously, the minimum call rate for on-net call was Tk 0.25 a minute and Tk 0.60 for off-net calls (calls from one operator to another operator).
Banglalink and Robi's daily revenue would increase by 44.45 percent and 35.07 percent respectively amounting to Tk 3.23 crore and Tk 2.37 crore, the BTRC calculated.
On the other hand, the state-run Teletalk's daily revenue would decline by Tk 2.67 lakh.
The analysis was based on call averages from March to May.