Tk 1,257cr telecom SOF remains idle for years

HM Murtuza | Published: 23:42, Dec 26,2017 | Updated: 23:51, Dec 26,2017

 
 

The social obligation fund, worth Tk 1,257.32 crore and collected by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission from the mobile phone operators for extending telecom facilities for the underprivileged population, has remained idle for years.
At the end of September this year, six mobile phone operators have so far paid Tk 1,070.47 crore to the telecom regulator, as operators contributed 1 per cent of their gross revenue to the fund on quarterly basis.
The largest mobile phone operator Grameenphone contributed the highest amount of Tk 544.84 crore to the SOF, while Robi, Banglalink, Airtel and Citycell followed the chart.
State-owned Teletalk contributed the lowest of Tk 2.70 crore to the fund.
Apart from these sources, another Tk 186.85 crore was added to the fund as interest on deposit.
Contribution to the Social obligation fund was made mandatory for the mobile operators in November 2011, when mobile operators renewed their licences.
The fund was incorporated under the provisions of clause 21-KA of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Act 2001 (Amended Act 2010).
In 2014, the government formed a high-powered committee led by prime minister Sheikh Hasina, as she is also the posts and telecommunications minister, for the management of the fund.
The committee, however, was yet to hold any meeting in this regard, officials of the commission said.
Meanwhile, a meeting of the committee was held this year in absence of telecom minister, bringing no result in utilising the fund.
Asked, BTRC chairman Shahjahan Mahmood told New Age, ‘It’s a specialised fund for the under-privileged areas where telecommunication services are not available or inadequate.’
‘How the fund will be used will be settled when the prime minister will call a meeting in this regard,’ he said.
With decision still pending on utilisation of the fund, the telecom regulator in its latest meeting held in December once again decided to deposit the whole amount to a bank, said a senior BTRC official.
The commission at the same time decided to  initiate moves for arranging meeting of the committee for the proper utilisation of the fund, the official said.
In 2015, the BTRC included international gateway operators and other service providers making their contribution to the SOF mandatory. However, they have enjoyed exemption from contributing to the fund since.
Although ICT division and the state-run National Telecom Monitoring Cell had sought allocations from the fund, their proposals failed to get response due to opposition from the telecom division.

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