September 27, 2009

Bangla Phone Finally Starts Ringing

BTRC withdraws its 'hostile' restriction

Private telecom company Bangla Phone resumes operation after more than two years of hibernation as Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has recently withdrawn its restriction on letting the company sub-lease and share its optical fibre lines.

The phone company run by a non-resident Bangladeshi invested Tk 135 crore and began commercial operation in 2006. In the first year it made Tk 14 crore operating profit and paid the government Tk 2.53 crore in VAT, tax and duties.

But from then on the company's business almost died down due to BTRC's 'irrational hostility'.

Consequently, the company retrenched half of its expert manpower and drastically slashed staff salary to stay alive.

But now BTRC has ended the 'hostility' by issuing the company with a permit for leasing or sharing of its network, which remained suspended from January last year.

Bangla Phone is one of the dozen Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN) companies licensed by BTRC to provide telecom services in different zones of the country. The company focussed on developing optical fibre network to provide backend service to leading telecom operators.

But from early 2007, BTRC singled out Bangla Phone by issuing notices of cancellation of its licence using various pretexts. The telecom watchdog also put pressure
on Bangla Phone's large clients not to use the company's network.

In February 2008, it cancelled the company's countrywide Domestic Data Communication Service Provider (DDCSP) licence and leasing permit.

Officially, BTRC accused Bangla Phone of "illegally" subleasing of its optical fibre network. Its optical fibre network now stands at 3,600 kilometres covering Cox's Bazar to Dhaka and up to Sylhet.

The BTRC during the caretaker government rule further argued that Bangla Phone did not serve individual subscribers with phone lines. This was true as the company only focused on developing network for bulk customers like other phone companies. It only had 26 individual subscribers. Again, the base became handicapped as the company could no longer provide the necessary equipment to customers since mid-2007, as BTRC stopped issuing no objection certificates (NOC) to the company for release of any imported equipment from customs.

The unofficial reason for this 'hostility', according to sources, had been linked with the Bangla Phone's owner Amjad H Khan's purchase of majority share of controversial phone company World Tel.

The BTRC, under the past caretaker and BNP-lead alliance governments had sided with Nayeem Mehtab Chowdhury, who claimed to have owned the majority shares. The then BTRC chairman sided with Nayeem, although a Rab investigation accused him of being involved with several financial scams and sent him to jail in early 2008. He is now out on bail.

The then BTRC chairman had opted for arbitrarily slapping financial penalty on the mobile phone and other PSTN companies for illegally using VoIP for call termination. But he tried his best to cancel Bangla Phone's PSTN licence till his last day in the office.

After the Awami League government assumed power, the then BTRC chairman's resignation re-opened Bangla Phone's avenue for scrutiny. The new BTRC chairman at a meeting with the Bangla Phone chief in April-May assured him of justice.

Bangla Phone chief Amjad H Khan told The Daily Star, "It took BTRC some time to review the legal documents before issuing us with permit for leasing or sharing of E1, optical fibre, duct and other telecom installations in early August. We are happy that BTRC has finally changed its stance."

Amjad, whose successful experience of setting up and running a phone network company in the US prompted him to return to Bangladesh, adds he is now expecting BTRC to reissue him with equipment and frequency permissions, which would enable him to launch the company's activities in full swing.

"We are now going back to our customers and reclaim business," he said. For instance, Bangla Phone resumed its services to its old customer Teletalk and it is in the process of opening business with other licensed telecos.

The company subsequently withdrew cases challenging various decisions of BTRC as a fresh start. On the other hand, before reissuing the permit for sharing of its network, BTRC fined Bangla Phone Tk 2 lakh for violation of terms and condition of its PSTN licence by leasing out its network.

Bangla Phone believes building the network does not go against the terms and conditions of the PSTN licence issued to it in 2004. A High Court verdict, based on a writ against BTRC's show-cause notices of 2007 and 2008, last year substantiated Bangla Phone's claim.

Source: The Daily Star


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