Five PSTN operators may get back licences

June 30, 2011

The telecom ministry and the industry regulator have amended rules to return licences to five fixed-phone operators, who have been out of service for over a year due to a government ban.
Under the changes, the five public switched telephone network (PSTN) operators will now have to solve their payment disputes on interconnectivity charges with the mobile operators bilaterally before getting the licences, officials of both the ministry and the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) confirmed.
Earlier, the PSTN operators had to reimburse their dues to mobile operators before applying for re-licensing. Now the ministry says the disputes could be settled bilaterally by conflicting companies.
On June 15, the ministry sent a letter to the BTRC, informing the regulator about the changes. The ministry also recommended returning licences to the operators through the same procedure.
However, Telecom Secretary Sunil Kanti Bose said the dispute over interconnectivity charge is the matter of the operators, not related to the telecom law.
“We have asked the BTRC to return the licences to the operators after they fulfill the conditions,” he said.
Still, the private land phone operators have to submit documents with dispute settlement certification to the BTRC before applying for the return of a licence, said an official.
In May last year, the BTRC scrapped the licences of Peoples Tel, National Telecom, WorldTel, RanksTel and Dhaka Phone for their involvement in illegal international call termination through VoIP technology.
The five landline telephone companies were serving around six lakh clients — with RanksTel half of them — before the ban was enforced.
Officials said the PSTN operators will now have to abide by three conditions: withdrawing cases against the government, reimbursing the revenue shares to the government, and paying Tk 3 lakh fines to the BTRC.
Officials at the PSTN operators said they are happy with the modifications made by the telecom ministry. But the regulator has again made the situation tough for them, as it has suggested settling debts of interconnectivity charges before applying, they said.
A ministry official, however, said interconnection charge between the mobile and fixed phone operators is a bilateral issue. “They should address it by themselves; the government does not want to get involved.”
RanksTel owes Tk 20 crore to six mobile operators, according to officials of the company.
“We are in the process of withdrawing the cases we have filed against the government,” said Abul K Shamsuddin, chief operating officer of RanksTel.
Shamsuddin said the company owes the government Tk 2 crore in licence renewal and revenue sharing fees. “Before re-launching the network, we will have to assess the damage that occurred after it was closed last year.”

-With The Daily Star input

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