Approval suspension an ‘extreme measure’: GP


The country’s biggest telecom operator Grameenphone (GP) protested Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) recent decision to withhold its approval.

The operator termed the decision as an extreme measure and one that does not account for customer interests; the decision would affect customer experience with phone calls, Internet browsing and digital/social media accessibility. It also deprives citizens from the freedom of choice of using products and services that meet their lifestyle requirements. 

Grameenphone CEO, Michael Foley came up with the comment at a press briefing at Intercontinental Dhaka in the capital on Thursday. 

He said, “The interests of consumers and the economy as well as the reputation of the country should never be used as currency in the resolution of commercial disputes.  The impact on others caused by the actions of the regulator is material and deeply regrettable.

We have a legitimate right to dispute the claim on the basis of principle, methodology and substance. The unprecedented use of punitive techniques by the regulator makes us question the motive of the disputed audit.”  He also highlighted that stopping operational approvals would lead to a forced freeze on additional investments in network expansion that will hamper the digitalization journey of the nation. Suspension of approvals would also affect other businesses (and their employees) that are a part of the value chain such as network and infrastructure partners, digital entrepreneurs and ICT freelancers.

Hossain Sadat, Acting Chief Corporate Affairs Officer, shared some (among many) of the company’s concerns with the methodology and principles of certain elements of the claim that put the audit findings in question. 

He pointed out, for example, that between 2002 and 2006, spectrum usage charges were paid based on demand notes presented by the BTRC itself. However, in the BTRC audit, it was assessed that the demand notes were incorrectly calculated by the BTRC. Rather, than holding BTRC responsible for this grave error, the BTRC appointed auditors have stated for GP to not only pay the balance of the allegedly erroneous calculation but also the accrued interest at a compounded rate. Furthermore, contested VAT issues currently under the consideration of the Hon’ble courts were also included in the disputed BTRC audit claim, which is highly irregular.

Questioning the underlying motive of the process, the GP CEO referred to the cover letter of the audit demand, dated 2nd April 2019, where it was specifically mentioned that only GP responses up until 20th February 2018 were considered. The letter made no mention of subsequent correspondences and discussions between GP and BTRC, including two critical documents submitted on 6th and 18th September 2018, in response to a 26 August 2018 BTRC letter soliciting comments on the audit findings. In those two letter GP categorically identified and highlighted all its concerns in detail. “We are gravely concerned that our responses to the audit findings went unheeded and remained unsettled. This cannot be the stand of an independent audit and puts the spirit behind the entire audit process in question. This also highlights the need to protect our legitimate right to avail ourselves of an arbitrative process.” added Michael Foley.