The government is considering taking action against all three private mobile operators in the country for not complying with the telecom regulator's order to send short messages to their subscribers.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission on September 29 asked all four mobile operators to send their subscribers 10 short messages with slogans on development and success stories of the government.
But of them, only state-owned Teletalk, which has 39 lakh active connections, carried out the order, said a BTRC high-up seeking anonymity.
The official mentioned that all the operators were asked to send each of the 10 SMS every day to all their users.
But the three private operators -- Grameenphone, Robi and Banglalink -- with 15.15 crore active connections refused to disseminate those as free text messages, terming those “political”.
The operators argued that they are supposed to disseminate government texts on “national emergency or security matters” for free, not on any other issues.
However, the three operators had sent the first of the 10 messages to some of their subscribers without going through the content of the message, said several officials of the private mobile companies.
Several BTRC officials said the posts and telecommunication ministry prepared the 10 SMS highlighting the success of the Awami League-led government as the national election is approaching. The ministry also prepared 50 more similar SMS.
In a joint letter to the BTRC on October 1, the three operators said they can circulate those SMS only under commercial agreements.
“Under these circumstances, should the content of such bulk SMS is acceptable, we need to send them through commercial agreement,” read the letter signed by Grameenphone Chief Executive Officer Michael Foley, Robi Managing Director and CEO Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, and Banglalink Managing Director and CEO Erik Aas.
Seeking anonymity, a top executive of a leading private mobile operator said if they disseminate these messages as government information for free, it would go against their own policy.
“The total cost of sending the messages to subscribers would be around Tk 25 crore,” said the executive, adding that operators charge Tk 0.17 to Tk 0.20 for sending a bulk SMS to subscribers.
A number of BTRC officials, however, said the non-compliance of the regulator's order was a clear violation of the 2G, 3G, and 4G licensing conditions for the operators.
They said the operators could be fined up to Tk 200 crore each for violating the provisions of the Telecommunication Act 2001.
The BTRC will issue show-cause notices to the three operators soon. It sent its observations to the telecom minister on Sunday to decide on the issue, they added.
“The telecom act clearly says the operators are bound to comply with any order or directive from the regulatory authority. But they refused to follow our order, which is a complete violation of the law,” acting BTRC chairman MD Jahirul Haque told this correspondent last night.
Talking to The Daily Star, Telecom Minister Mustafa Jabbar said, “The [private] operators have termed the short messages political. But it is not correct as the prime minister did not seek vote for boat [in those messages] or urged people to elect the Awami League again.
“If any licensee does not comply with government orders, it has to face consequences.”
He further said the operators, funded by foreign companies, are doing business in Bangladesh but they refused to send government messages to the people.
“We will take some steps, but those will not create any complications.”
Earlier in June, the BTRC asked all the mobile operators to disseminate the PM's voicemail with greetings to their subscribers on the eve of Eid-ul-Fitr, but only Teletalk complied with the instructions, the minister mentioned.
Later, the telecom regulator formed a five-member probe committee to look into the issue. The committee is yet to submit its report.