Telecom giants received large number of new subscribers in 2019 but did not get permission for network expansion over regulator’s audit claim
The Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC) stopped permitting Grameenphone and Robi from making new investments since July last year to realise disputed audit claims, thwarting their quality of services.
Both telecom operators have since been unable to expand their networks, although they gained many new users last year.
According to the telecom regulator, 33.8 lakh new users joined the Grameenphone network in 2019, while Robi received 18.6 lakh new users in the same year.
In the first six months of 2019, Grameenphone invested Tk790 crore for capacity expansion, network rollout and modernisation.
The leading telecom company planned to further import equipment worth Tk480 crores to extend its network, but could not do so as the BTRC refused to issue no objection certificates (NOCs) for them.
Now Grameenphone is providing services to its bigger customer base with the previous capacity and infrastructure, deteriorating its service and causing a bitter experience for network subscribers.
Meanwhile, Robi had also planned to invest $248 million (Tk2,102 crore) in 2019 for network expansion but failed after it too engaged in an audit dispute with the telecom regulator.
"Due to the NOC restriction, the investment amount of $150 million [Tk1,271 crore] got stuck in 2019, which affected the quality of our service negatively," reads a statement issued by Robi on Sunday.
Dispute between the BTRC and the telecom operators resulted in poor service including low speed of internet and call drops all over the country.
On January 2 this year, Jahrul Haque, chairman of BTRC, said, "We know that people are suffering due to not expanding the telecom operator's network capacity. But we cannot provide the NOCs for buying the necessary equipment unless the companies pay their dues."
Telecom operators termed the situation very disappointing and frustrating for the sector.
Last year, the government imposed additional levies on voice and data service, and raised minimum corporate tax by more than 2.5 times for the mobile network operators, which are struggling to make profit since then.
"BTRC's audit claim impacted the whole industry, including the equipment suppliers and the backward linkage industry, which stagnated network expansion and, above all, the investment efforts," said Brig Gen SM Farhad (retd), secretary general of Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB).
Equipment suppliers and firms belonging to the backward linkage industry, such as the Chinese Huawei and Swedish Ericsson, have also been affected as the telecom companies were unable to buy their equipment due to the NOC restriction.
Officials at these companies told The Business Standard that the sales of mobile network equipment in Bangladesh dropped to half compared to the sales in 2018.