Mobile phone operators with smaller market shares in the country are yet to enjoy the benefits of a mechanism called Significant Market Power (SMP) regulation that prevents monopoly by a giant company.
They are still losing grounds on Grameenphone which has been named a SMP operator and are unable to gain the expected market shares.
SMP in the telecommunications industry is aimed at ensuring a level playing field for all operators so that the larger companies cannot maintain a monopoly in the market. It is a well-known process to regulate the telecom market in many countries.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) formulated the SMP guideline in November 2018. As per the guideline, the BTRC will impose some restrictions on an operator if it attains 40 percent of the market share in terms of number of subscribers, revenues and spectrum or any of these criteria.
In 2018, Grameenphone had 46.33 percent share of the active subscriber base which has now grown to 46.51 percent. For the last few years, its revenue share has been more than 50 percent.
The number of active Grameenphone SIM (Subscriber Identification Number) cards stood at 7.56 crore until last year and the company posted a record Tk3,520 crore annual profit, the highest to date.
In February this year, the BTRC restricted Grameenphone's upcoming advertisement, package offer and call rate due to the company's domination in the market.
But Grameenphone filed a petition with the High Court challenging the restriction and the court stayed the restrictions. Later the BTRC withdrew its restrictions and asked the operator to submit its opinion.
Later, the commission imposed a new restriction on Grameenphone's voice tariff, interconnection charge, MNP (Mobile Number Portability) lock-in period and service approval.
The operator filed a writ petition with the court again, and the court issued a stay order. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for December.
Since the court issued the stay order, no initiative has been taken to ensure a level playing field for the operators.
On the other hand, Robi controls 29.37 percent of the subscriber base, followed by Banglalink (21.41 percent) and Teletalk (2.38 percent).
These operators said ensuring a level playing field will create a healthy competition in the industry but for that to happen, the SMP regulation must be put into practice.
"We welcomed the regulatory move as it reflected the eagerness of the authorities to address a crucial issue that has been affecting the small operators for a long time. Unfortunately, the SMP guideline has not been implemented yet and the matter was taken to the court due to disagreements over its implementation process," Taimur Rahman, chief corporate and regulatory affairs officer of Banglalink, told The Business Standard.
He said, "If the issue remains unresolved, it will hinder the potential growth and innovation of the industry. Ultimately, the subscribers will be affected."
"We hope the government and the BTRC will prioritise the matter and will address the legislative issues as soon as possible to create a sustainable business environment for the smaller operators," added Taimur.
SMP operator Grameenphone also favours a competitive market. In a statement, it said the Appellate Division had refused BTRC's prayer to vacate the stay order of the High Court regarding the imposition of SMP directives and ordered both the parties to maintain status quo.
"Grameenphone supports a competition framework, which is consistent with the applicable laws of the country and does not restrict an entity's ability to grow, innovate, or invest," the statement read.
The BTRC said it is committed to ensuring a competitive telecommunication market in the country.
BTRC Chairman Md Jahurul Haque told The Business Standard that the SMP guidelines had been implemented but the court issued a stay order on this.
"Once we did our part in implementing the SMP guideline, an operator went to court challenging it. The court is due to hear the matter in December. We will obey the court order whatever it is," he added.