The government has initiated a move to introduce uniform voice call rate for the mobile phone subscribers, setting the floor rate at Tk 0.50 per minute and the upper limit at Tk 2 per minute, which is likely to force consumers to pay more for calls.
The new uniform call rate would scrap the existing separate rates for on-net (within the same operator) and off-net (one operator to another) calls, meaning that the rate would be applicable for making calls in any operator.
At present, the floor rate for on-net calls is Tk 0.25 per minute and Tk 0.60 per minute for off-net calls.
BTRC officials and an expert, however, said that the decision to double the floor price in the name of saving customers from excessive cost ahead of the launch of mobile network portability service would ultimately raise the cost of calls for the subscribers instead of giving them benefit.
They also said that the government should conduct public consultation before setting the floor price.
The decision to set uniform call rate came from a meeting held at the Gana Bhaban in Dhaka on Wednesday. The meeting was presided over by prime minister’s ICT affairs adviser Sajeeb Wazed Joy, while posts, telecommunications and information technology minister Mustafa Jabbar, acting Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission chairman Md Jahurul Haque and top officials of the country’s mobile phone operators were present, among others, in the meeting.
The government move came ahead of the launch of MNP service. The MNP service allows users to switch operators without changing their existing numbers.
After the meeting, Jahurul Haque told New Age, ‘We are holding discussions to set the floor price at 50 paisa and the upper limit at Tk 2.’
He also said the new rates are expected to be finalised by August 30 this year.
Mustafa Jabbar said that the issue would be conveyed properly to people as well as media after finalisation depending on approval from the finance and law ministries.
‘Already the subscribers have been suffering from substandard services and they are paying high charges. Now, if you double the floor price, the general subscribers would face more punishment,’ Abu Saeed Khan, senior policy fellow at Sri Lanka-based ICT think tank LIRNEasia, told New Age.
‘Without any public consultation the regulator should not have doubled the floor price and such critical decision should not be taken secretly,’ he said, adding that it would be an anti-people decision to set the floor rate at 50 paisa per minute.
‘It seems that the operators and the government have colluded to cheat the consumers,’ Saeed, also a former secretary general of Association of Mobile Telecom Operations in Bangladesh, said.
According to Saeed, the general customers do not make off-net phone calls much and they mostly make on-net calls.
A leading mobile phone operator at a recently held discussion with reporters said that more than 70 per cent of its customers used to make on-net phone calls and less than 30 per cent used to make off-net phone calls.