Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission has allotted a multi-million dollar spectrum free of cost to an internet service provider, which is allegedly providing wimax to consumers illegally. One of the market giants, Banglalion, moved the High Court yesterday questioning the BTRC allotment.
In the petition, Banglalion, pointed out that the 800MHz band that was allocated to M/S New Generation Graphics Limited (NGGL) was sold in Sweden at a price of €233m around February and March 2011, near the time of its allocation here in Bangladesh. It also referred to the spectrum’s sales at such prices elsewhere in the world - Denmark (€4.385bn), Germany (€2.96bn two slots), Italy (€2.96bn), England (£2.37bn) and USA ($19.12bn).
Banglalion also pointed out that Finland has scheduled sale of an 800MHz spectrum at the end of this year and hopes to raise around €100 million from the auction.
Court sources said that the petition might be heard today and that veteran lawyer Kamal Hossain would be representing the petitioners.
Another counsel of Banglalion, Aneek R Haque, said, “It [the spectrum allocation] seems like a huge financial irregularity. When the government is seeking money everywhere else, they are at the same time handing out a multi-million-dollar spectrum absolutely free.”
BTRC commissioner, ATM Monirul Alam, admitted that the 800MHz band was declared very important by the International Telecommunication Union, only to point out that the spectrum was allocated to NGGL before the international body’s declaration.
The spectrum was allocated on August 10, 2011 for a year on condition of using it properly. The government renewed its contract last December, 15 months after the original allocation. .
The regulators also denied allegations of wrongdoing and said that NGGL was given the spectrum to help digital connectivity of rural people, which is why it was given free.
However, NGGL, which operates on two bands, 806-816MHz and 847-857MHz, have gone into a joint venture with another local ISP and Moscow-based Multinet to launch a wimax service branded “Ollo”, which provides service only in Dhaka city.
Commission meeting minutes say that the 800MHz spectrum was allocated on request of PM office’s Access to Information project. Monirul Alam said, “After that allocation, there is no spectrum left on the 800MHz band.”
He added that elite crime busters Rapid Action Battalion were using the two bands. Rab was shifted to other bandwidths to accommodate the NGGL.
Allegations have been levelled against Ollo that following its formation, it had imported non-licensed equipment and are working to establish and operate an LTE (equivalent to 4G) network, which is yet to be permitted in Bangladesh. BRTC is only by now preparing to auction 3G, 4G or LTE license and spectrum, but Ollo has already set up networks for such service in Dhaka and Jessore.
Sources said despite having no LTE license, the brand has already established capable transmission networks, core networks and access network of nine sites, eight in Dhaka and one in Jessore. They are now testing the LTE feature.
The amended telecom act of 2010 say an operator can be fined up to Tk3bn if it provides service without proper permission.
Mobile phone operators have also expressed their concern about this. A senior official of a top operator alleged, requesting anonymity, “We are concerned that even though we had many things to say, BTRC kept us occupied with other things so that we cannot address this.”
Sources said Ollo had imported all the equipment without declaring about their LTE features and they were illegally cleared from the customs.
BTRC commissioner, Monirul, said, “Due to the transfer of the spectrum, Ollo had imported all of their equipment for LTE and other services using Rab’s name. So there is no corruption here.”