Following more than eight months of uncertainty, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has today renewed for 15 years the 2G mobile licences of GrameenPhone, Banglalink, Robi Axiata and CityCell. The move to resolve the stand-off over fees between the regulator and cellcos was prompted by a letter from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MoPT) to the BTRC asking it to issue the four concessions. As reported by local newspaper The Daily Star, the operators have been allowed to pay a secondary installment of their licence renewal fees within an extended deadline, without paying any late fees which had previously been demanded of them, whilst they must pay a third installment in December 2012. The validity of the licences – three GSM concessions plus CityCell’s CDMA permit – ran out on 10 November 2011, but the renewal process was delayed due to court cases stemming from disagreement over the level of fees set by the BTRC and the amount of applicable VAT. The fees charged for the four licences totalled BDT75.63 billion (USD91.3 million), plus VAT, with the individual operators charged as follows: GrameenPhone BDT32.41 billion, Banglalink BDT19.71 billion, Robi BDT19.00 billion and CityCell BDT4.50 billion. Having paid a first installment of 49% of fees in November, the second installment of 29% was due by 1 August, but the BTRC has extended the deadline to 31 August on recommendation from the MoPT. BTRC chairman Zia Ahmed told bdnews24.com yesterday that no formal agreement would be signed between BTRC and the operators for the licence renewal (contrary to previous intentions from the MoPT), so as to avoid any further legal complexities in the process.
Meanwhile, the BTRC has demanded that all six mobile operators in the country, including the aforementioned quartet plus Airtel and Teletalk, must introduce call billing based on ten-second pulses by 15 August, to replace the common practice of per-minute billing. The directive is a repeat of a request the regulator made in May 2011, but according to a report by the country’s Financial Express newspaper, the operators have not yet implemented the ten-second pulse, and moreover, ‘industry insiders’ are quoted as saying that the directive is ‘not feasible’. The intention of the regulator is to help bring down off-net call costs, which remain high on average, in contrast to rock-bottom on-net call charges.