International calls fall by 20pc in 6 months as new termination rate bites

HM Murtuza | Published at 12:05am on August 29, 2018

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A file photo shows a man talking on his phone in Dhaka. The daily average incoming international calls through the legal channel has declined by 20 per cent or 1.1 crore minutes over a span of just six months after the government ‘surprisingly’ increased the call termination rate in February this year. — New Age photo

The daily average incoming international calls through the legal channel has declined by 20 per cent or 1.1 crore minutes over a span of just six months after the government ‘surprisingly’ increased the call termination rate in February this year.
The average international call termination through the legal channel declined to 4.3 crore minutes per day in July this year from 5.4 crore minutes per day in February this year, according to the latest data of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.
The BTRC introduced the new call termination rate on February 27 this year.
The average international call termination through the legal channel was 5.3 crore minutes in March and 5.2 crore minutes in April this year.
As per the BTRC directive on the new call rate, international gateway operators are allowed to bring international calls at 2.5 US cents (Tk 2) per minute instead of the previous rate of 2 US cents per minute.
The operators, however, are allowed to share revenue with the government at 1.75 US cents (Tk 1.4) per minute.
An official told New Age that the commission’s reluctance to identify illegal voice over internet protocol business and pressure from influential quarters to keep the rate high played as major factors behind the drastic fall in the volume of international incoming calls.
Besides the implementation of new call rate, growing mobile application-based phone calls also known as over-the-top (OTT)-based calls was another reason for the sharp fall in incoming international phone calls through the legal channel.
As a result of the decline in international calls and reluctance to identify illegal VoIP businesses, the government is being deprived of a huge amount of revenue as IGW operators are supposed to share 40 per cent of their revenue with the government.
A few days before the new call rate was introduced in Bangladesh, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in January this year reduced international call charge to Tk 0.38 per minute from Tk 0.67 per minute with a view to containing the app-based international phone calls and illegal VoIP calls and encouraging international calls through the legal channel.
Although the Indian regulatory body faced stiff opposition from the IGW operators, the TRAI remained stuck to its decision of reducing the rate.
Against the backdrop of declining volume of international calls, the BTRC in April, 2017 initiated a move to lower the international call termination rate to 1.5-1.6 US cents.
The telecom regulator, however, failed to implement the decision mainly for opposition from influential quarters.
Even the proposals could not be sent to the posts and telecommunications ministry for approval.
In April this year, Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Limited issued a letter to the ministry opposing the new directive on international call termination rate.
BTCL also found that the BTRC-set directive impractical considering the declining volume of international calls through the legal channel due to the rise in mobile application-based phone calls, a senior BTRC official told New Age.
BTCL, also an IGW operator, would face drastic fall in international calls along with revenue fall as the new ICTR would prompt illegal VoIP and mobile application-based calls, he said.
Earlier, in September 2014, the government reduced the rate to US 1.5 cents from US 3 cents, reasoning that this step would increase international call termination through the legal channel.
Although the government’s 2014 instruction became invalid in September, 2015, the IGW operators shared revenue with the government at the rate of 1.5 US cents despite the fact that they were bringing international calls at the rate of 2 US cents per minute.