Vol. 5 Num 704 Tue. May 23, 2006  
Front Page

Submarine Cable
BTTB given unlawful control over network
Other ISPs will be discriminated against

The government violated the law by allowing the state-run telecoms monopoly to own and operate the country's only submarine cable network. Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) built the SEA-ME-WE4 submarine cable and its associated infrastructure from the earnings of its other telecoms ventures and the law explicitly prohibits such practices of subsidisation.

Subsection C of Section 49 of the telecoms law says, "If an operator provides more than one service, but there exists competition in the market in providing one of such services and no competition in case of another service provided by him, then subsidy from the earnings of the service which is subject to competition shall not be allowed for the other service which is not subject to competition."

BTTB built the cable's landing station in Cox's Bazar and from there it deployed an optical fibre link up to Chittagong from the earnings of its fixed telephony, Internet and data connectivity services. This is what the law explicitly prohibits because the private sector is also offering all these three categories of services through competition.

Therefore, the government cannot build the submarine cable from the earnings of the services 'which are subject to competition' and it must take away the submarine cable's control from BTTB's grip as soon as possible to comply with the legal provision and create a level playing field to foster the growth of telecoms and ICT sectors, sources said.

Otherwise, the government remains vulnerable to legal actions for such a gross non-compliance with the law, which might even temporarily stall the cable's commercial operations causing a great deal of trouble for the undersea cable users of Bangladesh.

BTTB's undisputed control over the SEA-ME-WE4 provides free bandwidth to its state-owned Internet service. It allows BTTB to maintain an artificially lower tariff for its Internet services while private Internet service providers (ISPs) have to buy the same bandwidth, which compels them to impose higher tariff on their services, putting them in disadvantage in competition with BTTB.

Moreover, monopoly earnings from the SEA-ME-WE4 cable ensures BTTB's extremely unnatural competitive edge over private fixed and mobile phone operators, who are now forced to use BTTB's cable landing station to process overseas calls.

Being the monopoly international voice gateway operator, BTTB dictates the international call tariff and charges its private sector competitors accordingly. Exclusive ownership to the submarine cable's landing station has now extended BTTB's monopoly over the data connectivity and Internet market.

"Therefore, BTRC should not have approved BTTB's submarine cable's tariff unless a separate state-owned company takes over the Cox's Bazar landing station's operation," said a regulatory official requesting not to be named. He also said BTTB also has to split its ISP unit in order to cease further cross-subsidisation.

Last week Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) approved BTTB's proposed tariff on the newly commissioned SEA-ME-WE4 submarine cable's bandwidth.

Instead of taking any punitive measure against violating the law, the regulator has rather fast approved BTTB's tariff to expedite the inauguration of the submarine cable system by the prime minister last Sunday. Sources said the regulator's concession to BTTB's non-compliance undermines the law, disrupts level playing field and impedes the country's ICT sector growth.

It might trigger lawsuits against BTTB's ownership over the SEA-ME-WE4 submarine cable in Bangladesh, which also jeopardises the country's smooth commencement of journey through the information superhighway.