Proposed telecom act amendment will only harm the industry
As the world continues its journey towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, with exponential growth seen across the global telecommunications industry, we are concerned that Bangladesh, instead of following suit, is taking a huge step backwards with a planned amendment to the Bangladesh Telecommunications Act. This will strip the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) of its independence and cede most of its powers to the telecom ministry, which will hamper the commission's ability to take decisions and implement effective measures, and ultimately be hugely detrimental to the growth of the industry.
The BTRC's independence had already been curtailed in 2010 by making it a requirement for the commission to seek ministry approval for issuing, renewing, transferring or revoking telecom licences, and for setting tariffs on different services. However, the 2021 draft amendment will be the final nail in the BTRC's coffin. It will transfer almost complete control over to the ministry by requiring the commission to take ministry approval for almost everything it plans to do. It will give the ministry the power to recruit, appoint, promote, transfer and penalise all higher-tier BTRC employees (Grades 1 to 9) without involving the commission chairman; the responsibility of investigating allegations against the BTRC commissioner will be transferred from the Supreme Court judges over to the ministry as well.
The rationale that Posts and Telecommunication Minister Mustafa Jabbar has provided for taking away the BTRC's independence is that the commission can often function in an autocratic manner, especially in the case of appointments. However, if that is the case, the ministry has every authority to call for an investigation into these occurrences and act with due diligence. But it cannot be the reason behind completely transferring the authority of the BTRC over to the bureaucracy, simply because it is not functioning effectively.
It is worrying that the government does not seem too concerned about how the proposed amendment will affect consumers, the industry and the future trends of growth. According to experts, the challenges and roadblocks that are impeding the growth of the telecom industry are not addressed in the draft law, and there are no clear-cut ideas as to how it will work with and implement the "Digital Bangladesh" road map either. Rather than updating a 20-year-old law for modern times, the amendment will only tighten the government's grip on the telecom sector and create a conflict of interest, where the government will become both the regulator and the operator of the industry. We can simply find no rationale behind amending the law in a way that will not only fail to modernise the industry, but will ultimately harm it instead.