Cell operators given a shock

Telecoms regulator asks for new fee for old bandwidth
Telecoms regulator yesterday sent letters to four mobile operators in the country asking them to pay spectrum charges and renewal fees and have their licences renewed for the next 15 years.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) also sought papers related to tax, VAT and VoIP from the operators.
GrameenPhone (GP), Banglalink, Robi and Citycell will have to pay the charges by October 31 since their licence will be deemed invalid by November 10 this year.
The move means that an affair considered closed three years ago has revived with the issuance of the letters. The operators will have to pay a certain amount of money, of the sort they paid in 2008 to obtain additional spectrum in 1,800 megahertz band.
The letters came as a shock to the operators who say they will have to pay a new fee for previously purchased spectrum.
According to the letters, GP will have to pay Tk 384 crore and Banglalink Tk 47.15 crore extra with the recently fixed spectrum charge. On the other hand, Robi will see some of its money returned while Citycell remains out of the equation as it did not purchase any additional spectrum in 1,800 MHz.
GP bought 7.4 MHz, Banglalink 2.6 MHz and Robi 2 MHz.
Officials speaking on behalf of the operators said during the tenure of the caretaker government in 2008, three operators purchased additional spectrum following an offer made by the BTRC. They paid Tk 80 crore for per MHz spectrum for 18 years.
According to the first condition of the additional spectrum allocation issued in October 2008, the assignment will be for 18 years from the date of the allocation subject to the renewal of the licences. Within 18 years if the licence is renewed there will be no additional charge for this particular assignment.
The operators said as the 2G renewal has been fixed based on Market Competition (or Share) Factor (MCF) of operators — e.g. now GP’s 1.48, Banglalink’s 1.06 and Robi’s .99 — the previous payments have been multiplied by the MCF and they will thus have to pay the additional money.
A BTRC official said GP and Banglalink’s payable money will increase as their MCF increased while Robi’s will slightly decrease.
He said according to the 2G renewal guideline the operators will not have to pay spectrum charges as they did in 2008, but only the amount that increased for the market competition factor.
He said the charge has been fixed according to the renewal guideline.
That means the operators will have to pay the newly finalised spectrum charge along with the extra amount within October 31 without any deduction. They have to pay at least 49 percent of the total due as the first instalment.
The operators said they will meet the BTRC chairman in this regard.
In its reaction GP said, ““We are surprised and shocked to see that our regulator have tagged some conditions with it and have invoked a new confusion around the frequency assignment in 2008.”
It said that the letter from BTRC has tagged MCF with frequencies obtained in 2008 and asked for another Tk 384 (approx.) crore on top of what they are to originally pay according to the newly finalised spectrum charge (Tk 3241 crore). BTRC has also asked GP to pay these fees before any decision is made on renewal.
Moreover, GP has been asked to make the payment within 10 days ‘without any deductions’ although the issue of applicable VAT deductions is still awaiting National Board of Revenue clarification.
GP will seek a clarification from BTRC on these issues.

-With The Daily Star input

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