Mobile network operators in the country, including the market leader Grameenphone and the state-owned Teletalk, have been fined around Tk8 crore for letting their SIMs for illegal voice over internet protocol (VoIP) services.
VoIP is the transmission of voice and multimedia content over an internet connection.
Among the country's four mobile network operators, Teletalk has been fined the highest Tk5 crore, while the second-largest operator Robi Axiata Ltd has been fined the second-highest Tk2 crore.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has asked the operators to deposit the fines by 30 June this year.
"The commission has fined the telecom operators for breaching its directives and licensing conditions," said BTRC Chairman Shyam Sunder Sikder.
For generating an international incoming and outgoing voice call in the formal way, one requires multiple layers of infrastructures including, mobile operator, interconnection exchange (ICX), and International Gateway (IGW) licences.
Sector insiders have said if someone from abroad makes a call to an individual staying in Bangladesh, it first comes to the IGW network and then the IGW passes the call to the interconnection exchange to transmit it to any of the mobile operators.
Similarly, if any Bangladeshi user makes a call abroad, the ICXs first send it to IGW and then it connects the call to the international operator concerned.
As a stakeholder, IGW service provider gets 20% of the earnings while the BTRC takes 40%, mobile operators get 22% and the rest goes to other entities.
But, through illegal VoIP service, users can generate calls bypassing the ICX and IGW that deprives the government from provable revenue, while such calls are often made to commit crimes.
In June 2020, the total international incoming call minutes routed through IGWs were 709.765 million and the total international outgoing call minutes were 6.54 million.
In order to prevent the illegal call termination, the BTRC in association with American LATRO Services Inc. conducted several drives in 2018 and 2019 and ceased a total of 52,344 SIMs from all mobile operators, which included 32,845 from Teletalk, 16,390 from Robi, 2,356 from Grameenphone, and 753 from Banglalink.
The regulatory commission that time charged around Tk10,000 against each SIM in line with the BTRC Act.
Initially, the total fine on Teletalk was Tk17.73 crore, while its was Tk7.55 crore on Robi, Tk99 lakh on Grameenphone, and Tk33 lakh on Banglalink. Later, after private hearing on each operator's appeal, the BTRC reduced the fine amounts to Tk5 crore for Teletalk, Tk2 crore for Robi, Tk50 lakh for Grameenphone, and Tk15 lakh for Banglalink.
A letter signed by BTRC Secretary Md Nurul Hafij, sent to the mobile operators on 7 June, asked the operators to deposit the fines by the end of this month.
Asked, Robi Axiata Ltd told The Business Standard that they have not received any letter in this regard.
No comment was found from other operators despite repeated attempts.
At present, there are 243 VoIP service provider licensees in the country, while the number of ICX service providers is 26.