Grameenphone on Sunday proposed resolving the issue of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission’s audit claim worth Tk 12,579.95 crore under the Arbitration Act 2001 in a transparent and acceptable manner.
The leading mobile phone operator in the country made the plea at a press briefing organised by it at the Sonargaon Hotel in Dhaka after the BTRC on July 4 reduced the bandwidth for GP by 30 per cent and for another operator Robi by 15 per cent.
The telecom regulator made the move as the operators refrained from paying the BTRC audit claims worth Tk 13,447.18 crore in total.
Terming the BTRC’s move illegal, GP chief executive officer Michael Foley said that they sought court intervention against the ‘unconscionable’ decision of the regulator.
Foley mentioned that the BTRC’s move to cut bandwidth capacity of GP was shocking and surprising to them.
‘Although the BTRC reduced bandwidth for GP, we still do not think that the scope for arbitration is over,’ Foley said, adding that solution under the arbitration law would be faster, transparent and acceptable to all.
He also requested BTRC chairman Jahurul Haque to solve the issue through discussion.
Foley also said that the directive would be an additional burden on people and businesses and would hamper the country’s image abroad.
GP regulatory affairs head Sadat Hossain said, ‘We have requested the commission to withdraw the embargo slapped based on a disputed issue.’
Meanwhile, GP in a message to its customers said that they could face internet service disruption due to bandwidth cut by the BTRC.
GP and Robi have 7.48 crore and 4.77 crore subscribers respectively, representing 76.15 per cent of the country’s mobile phone connections.
BTRC chairman Jahurul Haque, however, rejected the GP’s plea for resolving the issue under arbitration law.
‘There is no such scope in the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission Act 2001 under which it operates,’ Jahurul told reporters at the BTRC headquarter in Dhaka on Sunday.
BTRC commissioners Md Rezaul Quader and Md Mohiuddin Ahmed were also present on the occasion.
The BTRC chairman, however, said, ‘We have proposed that the telecom ministry include the scope for arbitration in the telecom law as regulatory bodies like Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission has such scope in their laws.’
Now, it depends on the government whether it includes the scope in the law or not and it’s a long process, he said.
Under the existing circumstances, there is no alternative for GP but paying the audit claim, Jahurul said.
The commission has no authority of reducing the audit claim it has already made instead the operators will have to pay late fine at the rate of 15 per cent for delay in payment, he said.
‘Yet, the regulator is very much open to discussion and it could be held anytime,’ Jahurul said.
In a statement on the day, Robi chief corporate and regulatory officer Shahed Alam said, ‘We believe arbitration is the best solution to resolving the disputed claims that came out of a fundamentally flawed audit process.’
‘There is a specific act for arbitration that can amicably solve the problem,’ he said, adding that with regards to the telecom act, nowhere it mentioned that arbitration could not be used to solve disputes.
‘Hence, we sincerely hope that BTRC will be interested in pursuing the arbitration process to settle the matter once and for all,’ said Shahed.
‘Draconian’ measures like limiting the bandwidth usage of an operator can never serve the interest of the customers in enjoying the quality of service they deserve, he said.
Asked about the operator’s claim that the move of the regulator was illegal, the BTRC chairman said, ‘The government has given us all the authority including the cancellation of licences, if required, for the recovery of the audit claim.’
‘Considering the adverse impact of licence cancellation or suspension, the commission has decided to limit bandwidth marginally so that the customers do not face much trouble in accessing internet,’ Jahurul said.
The BTRC chairman said that they would analyse the impact of bandwidth reduction and would take next course of action based on the assessment.
On April 2 this year, the telecom regulator issued a Tk 12,579.95-crore demand letter to GP after the submission of the final audit report by Toha Khan Zaman & Co on March 25 this year.
The operator was asked to pay the money in two weeks.
Refraining from paying the claim, GP said that its observations on the errors in the methodologies of audit through which the government claimed the money from the operator remained unaddressed.
In July, 2018, the commission issued a demand letter to Robi claiming Tk 867 crore in dues based on an audit report on the entity’s information system.
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