News From Telecom World

Interview: BTRC boss backs rural links

Posted on: October 27, 2008

The telecom watchdog chief brushes aside the allegations of ‘rural unwillingness’ to adopt new technologies, saying ultimate benefits will not be achieved unless rural connectivity is ensured.

“Rural and urban sections of society should readily take advantage of all technologies deployed. It is a wrong conception that rural people cannot absorb modern technology, like the urban people,” says Manzurul Alam, chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), in a recent interview with The Daily Star.

The BTRC has made numerous policies and issued licences to take more broadband and telephone services to the mass in the last 18 months.

However, industry insiders criticise BTRC’s role saying the regulator welcomes too many technologies at a time. This ultimately leads to low absorption of the technology by the mass, due mainly to a lack of know-how.

The BTRC chairman differs.

“Our job is to make such policies that the benefits of technology reaches the mass. We should refrain from categorising between urban and rural sections.”

Citing an example, Alam says: “When the mobile was first launched in Bangladesh in the early 90s, no-one believed such technology could survive. What happened next? This handy piece of technology has become an integral part of our life, rural to urban.”

Besides, BTRC should think about the next generation. “The technology we discuss today can expire in five years, but the platform we create today will be able to welcome next generation technologies. Nobody can say Bangladesh lags in telecoms or ICT,” he adds.

Recalling the global introduction of VoIP (voice over internet protocol) technology in 2000, Bangladesh did nothing to adopt the technology. “As a result, we lost huge sums of money. Timely decision-making is crucial to the sector,” Alam says.

According to the BTRC boss, Bangladeshi telecom market’s potential was always underestimated, as the market was untapped.

Alam says it is a conventional idea that rural people are not willing to adopt computer or internet technology. The idea does not hold true anymore.

The country’s leading telecom operator provides internet-related services through their CIC (customer information centre) to rural people.

“I don’t believe, an operator runs such a business unless it makes profit,” the BTRC chairman says, asking other operators to follow suit to provide the latest technology services to rural areas.

Bangladesh’s telephone subscribers reached 47.3 million as of September 2008. The telecom penetration rate stands at 33 percent.

What are the next technologies the BTRC is seeking for the Bangladeshi market?

Alam says BTRC now concentrates on broadband technologies. The regulator already awarded WiMax licences to the three private operators mainly aiming to connect the rural, he says.

In line with the BTRC plan, the three private companies, along with state-owned Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd (BTCL), will provide broadband services in four separate zones.

However, market insiders blame BTRC for dithering over issuing WiMax and 3G licences simultaneously. In opposition, the BTRC chairman says: “We are cautious about market monopolisation and want to ensure a level-playing field in the market.”

“It’s not unlikely for us to issue 3G licences. As per our plan, 3G licence procedures will be undertaken early next year,” he says.

Alam clarifies slow awarding of second submarine cable licences. He reveals 13 companies have submitted their proposals. “We are scrutinising the proposals.”

Did BTRC’s drive against VoIP hurt business?

Alam retorts, “No, it is a wrong idea. Price wars among the operators are mainly responsible for downsizing business.”

Such competition is favourable for the market to bring more dynamic services to customers, he says.

“We are not against technology, but it does not mean we endorse operator’s illegal activities,” the BTRC chief says. The telecom market must follow ‘decent’ business practices, he emphasises.

“If someone adopts illegal strategies to conduct business, it certainly will not sustain,” he says. The BTRC and operators should work together to make the market decent, so that both parties can stand side-by-side.

Will the next government follow up on BTRC’s latest move?

Alam is optimistic about getting strong responses from the next government. He says good work should be encouraged by the government. “Otherwise, the market will go beyond control and unholy practice will revive.”

Source: Daily Star

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