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Critical Analysis of National Telecommunication Policy of Bangladesh (1998) Tahmina Afroz

NORAD Scholar, MPPG Program, North South University, Dhaka E-mail: silvia@bdosn.org

Abstract This paper is a comprehensive evaluation of the National Telecommunication Policy of the Government of Bangladesh. To the author's knowledge this study is first of its kind where the evaluation has followed the proposition of a formal and concrete model. The evaluation model comprises the technological landscape and the socio-eco-cultural fabric. The author also dedicates a separate section to find out how much the policy is aligned with respect to other public policies and regulations. With the appraisal of current achievements, the study proposes categorical recommendations about the opportunities of improvement in the policy. Through this paper, the author also proposes a blue print of standard evaluation of public policies which involve modern technologies. Key Words: Telecommunication Policy; Telecom Services

1. Introduction The National Telecommunication Policy


, 1998, is the Rosetta stone for regulating over all

telecommunication activities within the territory of Bangladesh. As the policy covers a number of important issues to different levels, a comprehensive study from different perspective with detailed analysis is required. Being a regulatory policy, in terms of specialization and individualization, it is not as extensive as a distributive policy. As it is the first of its kind in Bangladesh, it is not expected that the maturity and completeness will be same as the other developed countries. This paper aims to discover the insight and motivation behind the policy which will shape the future of the telecommunication in Bangladesh.

2. History and Origin of the Policy The Ministry of Post and Telecommunication (MoPT) bears the legacy of the Telegraph branch of the Posts and Telegraph department started in 1853 in British India under the Telegraph Act, 1885

. Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) was responsible for both

regulating and serving the telecom sector. Eventually, the following governments started to think to open the telecommunication market for private entrepreneurs. In 1998, the government announced the first national telecommunication policy. Eventually, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Act was promulgated in 1999 to open the market. Since then, the policy is acting as the center piece of this grand game. 3. Brief Analysis of the Policy Analyzing a national policy in a single report, covering a billion dollar sector, is a very difficult task. In this section, a status snapshot of the narratives is given with the comparison between background and impact of the policy. Since mid-sixties the discourse on a public policy includes the following: Description of the content narratives. Analysis of how different forces (social, economic and political) have impact on the policy. -

Description of how institutional structure and political ecosystem on the policy. Expected and unexpected consequence of the policy (Hewitt 2009) [5].

The author has tried to focus on these four aspects by using content analysis method. 3.1. Policy snapshot The policy starts with the 'Preface' describing the vision. Eighteen objectives ranging from regulation to market competition and universal services to local innovations are mentioned in the third article. But few of them have appropriate level of tangibility.

The fourth article, Strategy, is the largest article with six major sub-sections. The first subsection describes targets regarding teledensity, future services, information infrastructure, international network and master plan. The second sub section suggests the details of regulatory framework. Third sub-section describes tariff design with direction on protection from malpractices. The fourth sub-section elaborates ensuring fair competition. The fifth sub-section discusses how BTTB should be restructured and the regulatory responsibilities to be transferred to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). The last sub-section says how the government should help the private entrepreneurs. The fifth section is about institutional development suggesting establishing research institutes and human resources development. The sixth section discusses about local manufacturer of telecommunication components. The author recommends that this section should have more details about supporting local manufacturers and indigenous innovations. The seventh section mentioned suggestions to establish consulting forums to increase interaction among stakeholders. The eighth section states that the services will be based on the need of the users and provided at one stop. The ninth section has mentioned the related laws being enforced at this moment. 3.2. Comparison Between Background and Impact of the Policy In 1998, the telecommunication sector was linear and simple. There was analog transmission equipment with costliest voice and data transmission in Asia. The teledensity was 0.4% and in rural areas less than 0.03%
[11] [6]

. The traffic among the service providers used to go

through bilateral bridges rather than any common exchange. The only point to terminate international calls was BTTB. There was no nationwide fiber backbone. Since the policy, the scenario has been changed. More areas are now covered by the thriving private sector. A tertiary service sector has emerged. By 2010, more than 60 millions of

subscribers were enjoying services


. WiMAX and WiFi have started to be available at

selected locations. Most of the public universities are under Wi-Fi coverage. At least one private service provider is listed in stock exchange. The Average Revenue per User has been 3.1 USD in 2010 which is between Pakistan (2.3 USD) and India (4.3 USD)

. More than

one public university has started m-payment to receive application fees. Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) reports that annual growth rate of the market is over 50%. In summary, the telecommunication sector has undergone a complete change in all aspects. A timeline of telecommunication industry [4] since the policy is given at Table 1. 4. Brief Critique There is no specialized department in the ministry for maintaining the policy. So, some part of it has become relatively obsolete or irrelevant over time. The rationale behind not regulating directly by the Ministry of Science, Information and Communication Technology (MoSICT) is not explained. Conflicts of scopes and responsibilities at such a top level raise ambiguity. Government agencies are major institutional clients of telecommunication services. As they run under different policies, compliance with them should be elaborated in a policy. The Right to Information (R2I) Act makes the public offices publish information to the citizen. The Telecommunication Policy does not address the juridical framework on how the public offices should deal with the telecommunication infrastructure to enforce the act. The policy is more market driven instead of focusing on social disparity and increasing ownership on the international body of knowledge. While issues like 'Private Sector Operators' or 'Restructuring of BTTB' has got several pages, 'Promotion of Local Manufacturers' has not received due importance. It was described in only two paragraphs with no specific guideline. The policy should address the needs of local entrepreneurs with high priority.

The policy is not written in Bangla, which could be understandable for all. A quick review has discovered several typing error, indentation problem, repeating of one section twice, etc. A national policy deserves more review before going public. 5. Categorical Analysis of the Policy
5.1. Impact on the Governance System of Telecommunication Sector

The telecommunication sector is under the MoPT instead of the MoSICT. Moreover, transferring the regulatory role of the ministry to the newly established BTRC was never been consulted publicly. When the government converted BTTB into Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd (BTCL), the regulatory role was expected to go back to the ministry. But the government established an autonomous commission recurring overhead. The policy does not specify how the commission remains responsible to the Ministry of Commerce for consumer right and fair competition. There is no provision for BTRC to work with the Ministry of Health to develop a standard of safe radiation. 5.2. Impact on the Social and Cultural System of Bangladesh Telecommunication is an effective way of introducing new values. A cautious, yet generous, control might be imposed on the information exchanged. The government can learn from the experience of China and Iran to avoid the implication of over control. The services should be designed so that it encourages the users to build healthy relationships among each other without hampering positive evolution of the society. The policy should address the necessity of commissioned research on the cultural and social changes. 5.3. Impact of the Economy of Bangladesh Recent expansion of telecommunication network has increased white collar jobs in Bangladesh. But the major macro-economic contribution is connecting people. Lack of enough micro-payment and information dissipation infrastructure has helped people innovate a number of novel services. A good example is telepayment. People from one part of the country come to the other part for work. They send money to their family using the top up

services for cell phones. After charging commission, the top up service provider instructs his counterpart on the other side to disburse the money. So, unrecognized but positive economic practices are growing. At micro level, it opens up the closed doors of creative lifestyle. Small and medium enterprises are able to run PCOs making people's life better. As data service is also available, people in every corner of the country can access internet. A variety of value added services ranging from entertainment to personal vehicle tracking has emerged. Only generalized statements are provided in the policy about helping the shadow tertiary telecommunication services to integrate with the mainstream. The policy should be well equipped to help them flourish. 5.4. Impact on the Political Culture of Bangladesh In recent years, a number of financial scams have been uncovered in telecommunication sector. Sometimes other governments try to influence the terms of the contract which may put the country in a weaker position. This attracts the corrupt politicians to influence government's decision. The policy should recommend commissioning a department under the Auditor and Comptroller office to ensure transparency and accountability in incoming Foreign Direct Investment (FDI)s. 5.5. Impact on the Government System of Bangladesh Telecommunication infrastructure provides an economic way to exchange information strengthening democracy. Since R2I Act, it is the responsibility of the public offices to inform citizens about services. The offices cannot deploy a whole department with specialists quickly. A pragmatic solution is to take the advantage of growing nationwide telecommunication infrastructure. For example, the cabinet division is a top level unit taking policy decisions. It may start Push-Pull service where interested persons can know about the latest cabinet decisions via SMS. A mobile newsletter is also an easy way to allow people follow the government.

To encourage this, the telecommunication policy should concretely explain how the public offices should develop their own tele-information contents and services. The policy may commission BSTI to develop interoperable standards for digital public services. 5.6. Impact on Citizen Services In recent years e-governance is being discussed as the next generation paradigm for public services. Telecommunication infrastructure may play a versatile role here. Provisions should be made so that the agencies become responsible to innovate telecommunication based public services. Incentives should be proposed for the agent of these activities. 5.7. Impact on Local Government According to the constitution, the local governments should be given full autonomy doing business. To know peoples opinion, it is necessary to connect the government to them effectively. Local governments should use telecommunication infrastructure for public consultation. For example, the local government can maintain an inventory of fertilizer and inform the farmers through Short Message Service (SMS) when new supplies arrive. The policy should suggest legislative framework so that the local governments remain committed to do this.
5.8. Impact on Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Fabric

Since 2000, there was a boom in terminating overseas calls which was more popularly dubbed as Voice over Internet Protocol (VOIP) business. Thousands of tech-savvy young enterprisers were earning foreign exchanges under the shadow economy. But thousands of terminating setups gone idles when the entrepreneurs were arrested. Such stern action caused the sector collapse suddenly. Later the government decided to issue the call termination license to a handful large companies creating oligopoly. Finally, different sources indicated that the licenses are going to be given back to the VOIP entrepreneurs. Such U-turns harms investors' plan and confidence. The author recommends that the national policy should be equipped to protect the entrepreneurs who innovate new businesses yet unrecognized by any specific law. The enterprises should be given a transition time to regularize gracefully.

5.9. Compliance with Competition Policy and Law

To ensure consumers right, the policy emphasized on ensuring rapid development in telecommunication field as well as developing quality services. It has mentioned the Governments role to control the market oriented regime. The Government also needs to create competitive market for the users to have choices. If there are vertical or horizontal agreements to favor some particular entity to create monopoly the citizens will get low quality service. The policy should address this issue to ensure a competitive market for the consumers. 5.10. Compliance with other National Polices and Telecommunication Acts

A policy should not conflict with other national policies. In recent years, there have been allegations against

several telecommunication companies of indulging child labor in risky

projects. The policy should instruct the related laws to have provision for auditing compliance with National Environment Policy, National Labour Policy and National Children Policy etc. A recently proposed amendment in Bangladesh Telecommunication Act, 2001 allows a person to be punished if his action harms the national interest. Drawing the line between actions against the state and protection of the whistle blowers requires serious judgment call. The telecommunication policy and the acts should not constraint the opportunity of flourishing a free and open society.

Compliance with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) Policy

In international community, every year, new standards are adopted while old standards become obsolete. To ensure global interoperability, all nations are encouraged to get their policies compliant with ITU standards. It is important for the policy to ensure alignment with ITU-T

, the Internet of Things Global Standards Initiative


and the Next Generation

Networks Global Standards Initiative. The author also suggests that the policy commission BSTI to establish a sub-unit to work on ITU standards.

6. Recommendation Although the policy has covered several importance issues, it could have address national and social interest in a more coherent way. The author recommends putting more emphasis on decreasing social disparity and increasing ownership of knowledge. The author recommends an immediate review of the policy and publishing a proof read version. Later a permanent committee should be created to revise the policy and update it regularly. This committee should also remain responsible to make this policy available to the citizens in all means. 7. Conclusion Telecommunication infrastructure is extremely important for a society. On one side it can control how people will communicate each other. At the same time it can also pave the way for generating revenue. In some countries, properly planned telecommunication policy has increased Gross Domestic Product (GDP) even by upto 1%

. It is also very crucial for

national security and sovereignty. So, strong and foresighted comprehensive policy is necessary for the development of the sector. In this study the author has tried to point out the existing issues with the policy. She also suggested some remedies for them. She believes that with proper and flexible policy, Bangladesh can become a strong and vibrant telecommunication market powered with fair competition, local innovation and highest customer satisfaction.

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Appendix 1: Table 1: Timeline of Telecommunication Industry since the Policy has been Announced [4]: Year 1998 1999 2001 2002 2004 2005 2006 2007 Milestones National Telecommunication Policy announced CityCell converts from AMPS to CDMA BTRC launched Bangladesh Telecom Act promulgated ICT Policy announced BTRC started working from January 31, 2002 Orascom buys out Sheba Telecom SE-ME-WE-4 contract signed by the government TeleTalk starts its operation Warid gets license to provide wireless service 7 PSTN licenses distributed among local enterprises First mobile internet service launched by GrameenPhone Information Technology Act promulgated Broadband Policy announced Warid starts operations ILDTS policy proposed Interim Tariff Regulation declared Spectrum redistributed National Numbering Plan proposed BTRC revises licensing regulation MTR revised again 4 national PSTN licenses issued to local companies



NTTDoCoMo buys out 30% of AkTel's stakes BTTB becomes BTCL GrameenPhone lists in the stock exchanges WiMax licenses issued to two private and one government companies 3 ICX, 4 IGW and 2 IIG licenses were issued to streamline infrastructure Infrastructure sharing guidelines published More than 300 call center licenses issued IP telephony licenses issued to local companies ICT policy revised VTS licenses issued Review of ILTDS policy Submarine cable framework proposed ULR consultancy Review of NFAP M-payments guidelines proposed 2 NTTN licenses issued GP completes listing Airtel buys out Warid Telecom Allegations of scam regarding AirTel's deal ILTDS policy revised