The tax on new mobile connections is the main constraint to achieving the government’s vision of a ‘Digital Bangladesh’, said the head of the parliamentary standing committee on telecom ministry yesterday.
“The Tk 800 tax on SIM cards is inhumane, and it should be removed,” said Hasanul Haq Inu, addressing a seminar, Telecom for the Common Man and the ICT Industry, at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre.
Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) organised the event on the sidelines of its exposition, BASIS SoftExpo 2011.
With nearly seven crore active subscribers presently, Bangladesh is one of the fastest growing mobile markets in the world.
Inu said the government must take a political decision in bridging the digital divide and applying ICT in every sphere of life. He said the government should have cut the price of internet bandwidth earlier. The standing committee recommended the reduction one and a half years ago, he added.
“The users would have started to reap benefits much earlier,” he said, referring to a 31 percent cut last month in bandwidth prices from Tk 17,400 to Tk 12,000 per mbps. He urged the government to sit with stakeholders to provide high-speed internet services at Tk 400-500.
Inu said the country’s tax regime has to be made industry-friendly. “The return for the government will be huge, even if we provide free internet facilities to citizens.”
“The world is advancing so fast. If we do not catch up, we will be lost,” he said. “Over 60 percent of our population is below 30 years of age. They are our assets.”
He chastised the country’s business conglomerates for their unwillingness to invest in the ICT sector. “Instead, they are more interested in buying land.”
Inu said the energy crises, substandard education system, an unfriendly industry tax system and ‘old’ bureaucracy holds back development.
Post and Telecommunications Secretary Sunil Kanti Bose also agreed. He said the Tk 800 SIM tax is a barrier. He said cutting the bandwidth cost to take services to people would help the government achieve its vision of a ‘Digital Bangladesh’.
Prof Lutful Kabir, director of Institute of Information and Communication Technology (IICT) under Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, said the country is failing to keep pace with the growth of the ICT sector in producing skilled people.
Abu Saeed Khan, secretary general of Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB), said the operators give a subsidy of Tk 1,000 to sell a new connection.
Zakiul Islam, president of AMTOB, said: “It takes 10 months to recover the costs, if the new customer spends Tk 140 a month. But there are many customers who use multiple SIMs.”
Anir Choudhury, policy adviser of A2I, and Forkan Bin Quasem, secretary general of BASIS, also spoke.
The country’s largest exposition for software and ICT-enabled services began on Tuesday in an effort to bridge the gap between service providers and users.
About 110 local companies and 10 firms from Denmark and the Netherlands are participating in the ninth edition of the exposition themed ‘Digital Bangladesh in Action’.
The exposition is open to visitors from 10am to 8pm every day at an entry fee of Tk 30, while students enjoy free entry.