[sify] Investors and telecom service operators in Bangladesh are worried at the government's move to enact a stringent law against wrongdoing, envisaging arrest without warrant, no scope for appeal and a fine of Taka three billion ($43.2 million).
The government Sunday tabled in parliament the Bangladesh Telecommunication (Amendment) Act 2010.
Defending the proposed changes, Post and Telecommunications Minister Raziuddin Ahmed Razu said the amendments were required to 'legalise' VoIP (phone calls via internet) business and issue call termination operator licences to generate employment.
The minister said if the bill gets through, it would help curb 'illegal use of telecom technology and increase revenue income'.
The bill was sent to the parliamentary standing committee on post and telecommunications ministry for scrutiny. The committee was asked to turn in a report in the house within 15 days.
Among the recent entrants in Bangladesh's telecom field is India's Bharti Airtel, which acquired a stake in Warid Telecom and will be investing in telecom infrastructure.
Hasanul Haq Inu, chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on post and telecommunications ministry, Saturday said the committee would stand against the proposed amendment.
'I don't believe parliament will pass the bill without making it suitable for the industry,' he said.
According to The Daily Star newspaper, the bill proposes unilateral changes in clauses in an operator's licence by the regulator and arrest of telecom stakeholders without warrant. It also has a few clauses outlining the way make VoIP business legal.
If the bill gets through, telecom operators will not have a chance to appeal against the telecom regulator's decision, the daily said quoting unnamed legal experts.
All offences would be considered cognisable. The regulator or police could file a case even on suspicion, and arrest any telecom operator official without a warrant.
No official of telecom ministry or Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) agreed to comment on the issue, the newspaper said.
Telecommunication penetration is only 34 percent in Bangladesh. More than 56 million people now use mobile service while only 1 million people have access to the internet.
The European Union, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and investors in telecom sector in Bangladesh had sought a law that will help increase telecom penetration in the country. But they wanted provisions of harsh punishment dropped.
'Under the law, there is a possibility that the regulator may claim the operator is involved in wrongdoing,' said Oddvar Hesjedal, chief executive of Grameenphone. 'We cannot go for appeal against any decision taken by BTRC. This seems unconstitutional.'
Hesjedal said many operators were hesitating to go for 3G (third generation) technology because of the proposed amendment.
'We have to pay for licences and rollout. Under these circumstances, the law could be a fear factor for future investments.'
Mahbub Zaman, president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, said such a law would send a wrong message to the tech savvy generation.
Investors worry as Dhaka plans tough telecom law