Mobile phone operator Robi has accused the leading company, Grameenphone, of taking advantage of the Covid-19 situation and implementing marketing strategies in the guise of corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.
Chief Executive Officer of Robi, Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, raised this allegation in an online press briefing on Monday.
"The market leader appears to be implementing its marketing tactics in the name of CSR. This has put enormous pressure on other operators," he said.
The Robi chief also vowed to counter Grameenphone's move with similar packages for customers of his company.
"The telecom regulator and the government should look into the matter. Otherwise, the telecom industry will suffer and smaller players will have to pay the price," he said.
According to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission data, of the total 16.61 crore mobile phone subscribers in the country, Grameenphone has 46 percent customers, Robi 30 percent, Banglalink 21 percent, and state-owned Teletalk three percent.
Grameenphone on Friday announced several initiatives aiming to deal with the Covid-19 crisis worth Tk100 crore, including free minutes for one crore inactive users of April.
It also announced to provide 30GB of internet data for only Tk1 for medical professionals.
"The medical professionals are not marginalised people. This is an attempt to bring in the high-value customers under Grameenphone's network," Mahtab pointed out.
He also said offering free minutes to one crore subscribers was an attempt to win back customers.
"This will help enable inactive users and generate revenue," he said.
Mahtab said the entire situation has led to a tariff war initiated by the market leader.
"Now we have to counter it and offer similar packages. So, basically, we are pushed to reduce our tariff and it will be similar for other small operators," he said.
Robi Chief Corporate and Regulatory Officer Shahed Alam said the market leader was already declared Significant Market Power (SMP) operator.
"So, allowing SMP operators to make such offers creates an uneven market situation. We urge the regulator to create a level playing field," he said.
Robi high-ups said their company had already spent Tk170 crore on different CSR activities.
"But we are not mixing our CSR activities with our marketing campaigns," Shahed said.
On Monday, Robi also launched a campaign of 10 minutes of free talktime and 50MB of free data for its 1.30 crore customers.
It also extended the account recharge validity from 30 days to 60 days.
Asked about the issue, BTRC Chairman Jahirul Haque told The Business Standard that all operators are encouraged to come up with such offers.
"This is a special situation and if any operator comes up with packages that help people, we will consider," he said.
About allowing SMP operators to make such offers, he said, "The SMP regulation process is still pending with the court. After it is resolved, we will implement it."
"Now is the time to stand beside the country which is in dire need of our collective efforts and responsible attitudes. It is regrettable that such remarks have been made. We appreciate that others are being inspired and are coming forward", said Md Hasan, Head of External Communications of GP.