The regulator has rolled back the internet bandwidth cuts for mobile telecom operators Grameenphone and Robi 13 days after the reductions in an escalating row over its claim of unpaid dues.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission or BTRC on Wednesday sent a letter to the International Internet Gateway or IIG operators asking them to reverse the cuts citing “problems facing users”.
The notice came immediately after BTRC Chairman Jahurul Haque said they were weighing tough measures like blocking “No Objection Certificate” or NOC for every work of the two telecom operators.
Jahurul said at a news conference at the BTRC office in Dhaka that the audits, in which the dues were found, were carried out on High Court orders.
The regulator reminded Grameenphone and Robi of the payment time and again but they did not respond, he said.
“We had blocked bandwidth to collect state money. The prime minister’s ICT affairs advisor in a meeting yesterday asked us to withdraw it. We have decided to lift the bandwidth restrictions as it has created problems for the general people,” the BTRC chief said.
The regulator had ordered the bandwidth restrictions to force Grameenphone, the largest mobile telecom operator of Bangladesh, to pay about Tk 125.8 billion in dues found in audit.
Robi, the second largest operator in terms of subscriber base, also has over Tk 8.67 billion in unpaid bills, according to the BTRC.
Grameenphone, the Bangladesh business unit of Norway’s Telenor Group, suffered a 30 percent cut in its bandwidth capacity and Robi of Malaysia’s Axiata 15 percent.
Robi termed the BTRC move to cut bandwidth “unprecedented” and said it will hit the users.
Grameenphone, in a similar response to the move, questioned the legitimacy of the BTRC’s decision to restrict bandwidth.
Both the firms proposed a settlement of the payment issue through arbitration, but the regulator is not in favour of the option, which it says is not stated in related laws.
“We will try to collect the money in line with the law. There is no provision for arbitration in our law. Moreover, it will be delayed if they move the court again. They must pay in line with the BTRC law. We are trying because it is state money,” the BTRC chairman said.
Asked what the BTRC will do now, he said: “We can stop issuing NOC for them. Let’s see what the next step can be. There are also rules to appoint administrators. We will stop NOCs as an immediate measure. They will pay once they cannot move on.”
He did not state any date to stop issuance of NOCs, which the operators require from the regulator for different types of work in order to serve the subscribers.
If the BTRC stops issuing NOCs for Grameenphone and Robi, the two telecom operators will not be able to set up new base transceiver station or BTS to expand their network or import anything like machines and parts.
They will also be unable to offer any new package or alter any existing package.
“(Users) will have to accept a little bit of loss in greater interest,” the BTRC chief commented when asked how the new step will affect the subscribers.
Jahurul claimed the decision to limit bandwidth was not wrong. “Now we are taking an even bigger initiative than this,” he said.
BTRC did not have an estimate of how much loss the two operators suffered due to the bandwidth cut for 13 days, he said.
Out of over 160 million registered mobile phone SIM cards, Grameenphone has 74.7 million and Robi 47.6 million.
It means 46.49 mobile phone users of Bangladesh receive Grameenphone services and 29.65 percent have chosen Robi.
About 88.6 million people in Bangladesh use internet on mobile phones, which is 93.87 percent of the 94.4 million total internet users.