State-run Teletalk is getting its 2G licence renewed without clearing about Tk 6,000 crore of dues, in a brazen display of favouritism by the telecom regulator.
The carrier owes about Tk 5,700 crore as spectrum charge and another few hundred crore in social obligation fees and some other charges.
As per rules, all dues must be cleared for licences to be renewed.
Teletalk’s 2G licence had expired on August 31 and Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has already given the operator the no-objection certificate to continue its business. Not just that, the certificate renewal will be backdated.
After getting its licence in September 1, 2004 the lone local mobile carrier has been using 15.2-Megahertz (MHz) spectrum in the 900 and 1,800 bands to provide their 2G service.
Last year, the telecom regulator sold spectrum from the two bands to Grameenphone and Banglalink for $31 million, a price that was fixed in an open auction.
Using that rate, it can be calculated that Teletalk’s 2G spectrum charges amount to Tk 4,005 crore.
Earlier in 2012, Teletalk started to use 10 MHz spectrum in the 2,100 band and the telecom regulator said without value-added tax and late fees its market price was more than Tk 1,585 crore then.
And last year this band’s spectrum sold for $27 million per MHz by the telecom regulator. Using this rate, Teletalk owes Tk 2,295 crore to the BTRC.
A senior official of Teletalk recently told The Daily Star they have renewed the licence from the regulator after paying the Tk 10 crore fee, but they have no ability to pay the spectrum charges for the service.
In a recent commission meeting, the telecom regulator decided to calculate Teletalk’s outstanding amount and at the same time allowed the operator to continue without any hindrance.
Md Jahurul Haque, chairman of the telecom watchdog, acknowledged that Teletalk owes vast sums to the BTRC. “It doesn’t actually mean anything. The government will cover for Teletalk and the money will go to the exchequer again.”
However, the BTRC will place the demand before the government after calculating the total amount owed by Teletalk. “The government will have the final say on the matter,” he added.
Mustafa Jabbar, telecom minister, said he will write to the finance ministry to consider this amount as an investment of the government in Teletalk.
“Actually, government has injected only few hundred crores of taka into Teletalk, which is a tiny amount when compared with the other players have invested. That’s why the state-owned venture can’t make significant impact on the market.” The top three players’ total investment value easily crosses the Tk 100,000 crore-mark.
Teletalk is currently engaged in offering huge public services and acting as a medium for providing fees for different public examinations.
“We need to count Teletalk as an instrument of the government’s service wing,” he added.
As of August, the state-owned carrier has 43.87 lakh active customers with 2.7 percent market share.
In the middle of last year, the operator hit its peak of 49 lakh active users and 3.5 per cent market share.
However, in its first 15 years Grameenphone had logged in 3.65 crore active users, Robi 1.61 crore and Banglalink had 2.38 crore active users.
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