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Telecoms poised for next revolution: BTRC chief PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Agency
The telecommunications sector is poised to further revolutionise lives over the next two to three years, BTRC chairman Manzurul Alam said Monday, looking back over his year in office.

In an exclusive interview with bdnews24.com, he described the regulator's steps towards a more transparent and disciplined telecommunications sector.

The telecoms watchdog chief shared his insights on better provisions for telecoms subscribers, satellite connectivity, the potential of the new call centre industry, greater rural connectivity and much more.

Mentioning that BTRC is set to ask the National Board of Revenue to lower SIM card tax in a bid to ensure value and service for the public, Alam said: "We want to prove BTRC's complementary rather than regulatory role. The steps BTRC is now taking should have been taken earlier."

The retired army officer joined the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission on Apr 22 last year.

Reviewing his year as head of BTRC, he said: "Our main aim was to restore discipline in the telecommunication sector. Especially to bring illegal VoIP under a legal framework; we wanted those who were involved with illegal VoIP to come under the law. Many have now been fined." The VoIP problem should have been detected as long ago as 2000, he added.

"We believe mobile operators are not so involved any more. They are cooperating now. If we can curb such operations, tariffs will certainly go down. Vigilance and steps against VoIP have to be increased," the telecoms regulator said.

Speaking of his own role: "I have tried to use the prospective sides of the telecommunication sector. I've tried to ensure transparency in different activities of the BTRC. Licences have been issued through auction for the first time."

On recent developments, Alamsaid that if call centre licenses had been introduced seven to eight years ago, a big portion of the world market could have been captured.

"We have tried to kick-start the call centre business. If we can run it properly, the scope of employment will increase hugely in two to three years."

"We have also tried to introduce new technologies, for example Wimax, IP telephony and 3G."

Explaining BTRC's activities, Alam said the telecoms regulator had many functions, including fixing tariffs. "We fix the highest and lowest rates. Mobile tariffs in Bangladesh have come down substantially, to one of the lowest in the world - 70 paisa on an average."

"This is not our account, but on account of different international firms. On an average, every month the number of mobile subscribers is increasing by 10 lakhs. In March the increase was 14 lakhs. It is happening as tariffs go down. The price of mobile phone sets is also coming down."

He said that the bandwidth fees for submarine cable connections had also been lowered, and would come down further. "BTTB has been asked to give 60 per cent reduction in bandwidth fees to call centres."

"BTRC will also fix the feeds for the optical fibre links. As a result subscribers in rural areas will get bandwidth at a low rate. Rural connectivity will grow," Alam said.

An alternative to submarine cable connectivity has also been initiated. "We have acquired an orbit from the International Telecommunications Union for our very own satellite, to be established as Bangladesh's own or joint initiative. It will take five to six years. Among many other provisions, it will lower the cost of satellite TV channels."

The BTRC chairman lamented the fact that the quality of mobile phone services was declining day by day, but he said now the frequencies for mobile operators was being expanded.

"We are also in the process of giving mobile operators guidelines regarding subscriber rights."

Alam said operators would further be encouraged to go to remote areas by providing them with 'universal service funds'. "So that provision will be made, not only through Internet, for rural people to contact expatriate relatives more easily."

He said that PSTN operators were being issued nationwide licenses to bring more rural areas into the telecommunication network. "Emphasis is being given on rural connectivity so that all villages will come under network."

He said that if rural connectivity were increased along with developing the ICT industry, women's empowerment and employment would increase while their domestic repression would decrease.

Alam stressed the need for information technology and telecommunications to be brought under one ministry. "If not, there will remain numerous coordination problems. At present, three ministries are involved in the sector."

The BTRC chief said the regulatory body suffered greatly from lack of financial and administrative independence.

"A proposal for amending the BTRC act has been sent to the ministry," he said, adding that increasing the rate of fines and the appointment of administrators had also been proposed.

"If a mobile company did act illegally, an administrator could be appointed, rather than cancel their licence outright," he said.

Despite the obstacles, Alam firmly believes in the revolutionary power of telecoms: "A revolution will occur in the telecommunications sector in the next two to three years. The telecommunications sector will change the face of the country. Man's vision will change,"
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