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CREATE LEVEL PLAYING FIELD FOR ALL

Mobile operators critical of license fee

Special Correspondent

The private mobile telephone operators in Bangladesh have criticized the proposed license renewal fee which they find exceptionally high. Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (BTRC) is proposing the companies to pay the fees for renewing their operating licenses that would expire in November this year.
   According to the draft guideline as published by BTRC in November 2010, the validity of the renewed license shall initially be for a term of 15 years. The license shall authorize the operators to provide service through their own network of cellular mobile system. The license will authorize the operators to provide national and international long-distance call service, international roaming service and other value added services.
   The draft guidelines also proposed that operation license holders to pay to the BTRC for spectrum (bandwidth) allocation. Taka 50,000 has been proposed as application fees and spectrum assignment fees are proposed at the rate of Tk 150 crore per MHz for GSM 1800 MHz band and Tk 300 crore per MHz in GSM 900 MHz band. For CDMA, spectrum the fee has been proposed at taka 150 crore per MHz.
   It has been proposed that the licensee shall furnish to the Commission on a quarterly basis the information on the type and capacity of installation, pending demand, and traffic data and quality of service (QoS) reports.
   The government proposed that the operators shall pay Taka 10 crore as license renewal fee, taka five crore as annual license fee and Tka one lakh as application fee. In addition, the operators will have to share with the government a 5.5 per cent of their annual revue earning and another 1.5 per cent for corporate social obligation (CSO) fund. The revenue sharing and CSO amount shall be paid on quarterly basis.
   It has been calculated that under the proposed guidelines Grameen Phone will have to pay a one off fee of $756 million for a 15-year license. It also would require Robi to pay $413 million, Banglalink to pay $412 million and Citycell a fee of $86 million for a similar license.
   Meanwhile, the mobile operators engaged Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) headed by Farooq Sohan to organize a meeting last week inviting the key players from the concerned ministry and BTRC. Although the roundtable discussion was scheduled to be on the implementation of vision of Digital Bangladesh, the focus was concentrated on License Renewal issue. The operators hired, Aslam Hyat, a Telecom expert from Pakistan to plead for a reduced license fee.
   It has been argued that the huge license fee was proposed on the basis of a projected revenue earning and the expansion of the service and facilities . The present rate of telecom growth would soon reach to a saturated point and the projected growth of earnings may not be achievable under future uncertainties in economic and political arena of the country, said a senior official in the ministry.
   The government identify the information communication sector (ICT) as a booming sector with the present telephone penetration rate of 43 per cent and internet penetration at 6 per cent. Telecommunication sector contributes approximately 10 per cent of all government revenue. The telecom sector recorded 60 per cent of all direct foreign investment during the first three quarters of 2010. Buoyed by huge revenue prospect and the booming of telecommunication, especially the mobile telephone services, the government proposed the license fees that the operators are reluctant to accept.
   At the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute meeting, Oddvar Hesjedal, the Chief Executive Officer of Grameen Phone, said that the proposed fee was equivalent to one year’s revenue for the company. ‘It is a tremendous amount of money, and far more than the amount sought in any other countries.’ He said that it would be impossible to find that kind of money in Bangladesh and not even easy to find outside the country. ‘We would have to go to international banks and put up a business case… but the business case would not look good,’ he said.
   Michael Kuehner, the CEO of Robi, told the meeting that Bangladesh was about to open a second chapter in the development of mobile telecommunications, but if these guidelines do not change, the county would go down a ‘dead end street and it would not see any of digital Bangladesh happen, and it would see decreased investment in service quality and broadband.’
   Ahmed Abou Doma, the Chief Executive Officer of Banglalink, pointed out that of the four companies seeking a license renewal, only Grameen Phone is making a profit. ‘We started in 2005, but till now, my company has not showed any profit. You put yourself in the shoes of my investors. The company was supposed to break even in 2011 and now they have to find more money to pay for a license. They will think perhaps they should put their money elsewhere,’ he said.
   Looking at the BRTC chairman who was at the front row in the meeting room, he said, ‘Don’t cripple us when we are trying to deliver digital Bangladesh.’ He compared the amounts of money being proposed for license renewal to the $300 million purchase of Warid Telecom by Airtel. ‘That company was purchased with spectrum, subscribers and network… everything. And we have to pay more than [$300 million] just to renew our license.’
   At a subsequent press conference, Grameen’s Hesjedal emphasised the unfairness of this deal in which Airtel was able to convert 5 MHz spectrum of 1800MHz band to the much superior 900MHz band, free of cost. ‘There must be a level playing field in the same sector,’ he said.
   Earlier, the BEI meeting heard from Tenzin Dolma Norbhu, a senior ICT policy specialist at the World Bank. ‘We feel that the prices are very high compared to other countries in the region, and the process by which the figures were arrived at was not clear,’ she said.
   She suggested that the government look at good international practice – either an auction which was the most ‘transparent mechanism’ and the bank’s preferred approach or ‘a very comprehensive benchmarking exercise’ to find out what would be an appropriate license fee in Bangladesh.
   The BRTC Chairman, Maj Gen Zia Ahmed (Retd), suggested that the high fees was because the ‘spectrum had been free for some companies’ in the past. He asserted that BTRC’s effort was ‘to create an investment friendly environment and generate competition”
   Sunil Kanti Bose, Secretary to the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications assured the mobile operators that the government would reconsider the license fee. Any fee imposed, he said, would be ‘acceptable, rationale and justified.’ he said.

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CULTURAL VICTIM IS ISLAM

BBC-style coverage of Bangladesh

Shimul Chaudhury

In the last few years, so many dreadful things happened in Bangladesh. Innumerable broad-daylight killings of Opposition political leaders and activists by the police and by ruling party thugs, dozens of disappearances and subsequent killings of opposition workers, attacks on journalists, forcible dispersing of peaceful human chain organised by opposition – and the list goes on and on.
   In the border areas, hundreds of Bangladeshis have been brutally murdered by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) personnel with total impunity. A recent victim of the Indian BSF soldiers’ firing was Felani, the 15-year old Bangladeshis girl.
   The London-based Economist wrote: “On January 7th, 2011, India’s BSF shot dead Mr Nur Islam’s 15-year-old Felan… Felani’s body hung from the barbed-wired fence for five hours. Then the Indians took her down, tied her hands and feet to a bamboo pole, and carried her away. Her body was handed over the next day and buried in the yard at home….The BSF kills with such impunity along India’s 4,100-kilometre border with Bangladesh that one local journalist wonders what the story is about. According to Human Rights Watch, India’s force has killed almost 1,000 Bangladeshis over the past ten years. That implies a shooting every four days. The death toll between two democracies dwarfs the number killed attempting to cross the inner German border during the Cold War.”
   Whenever atrocities by the police and by ruling party musclemen within the country and those by BSF in the border region occur, I tend to go to media giants like the BBC. Almost on all occasions, I have been disappointed, as I found the BBC largely silent about the brutalities being perpetrated by Bangladesh government forces like the police and RAB, and the Indian forces.
   However, on 2 February 2011, the BBC quite disproportionately highlighted a news story relating to Hena Begum of Shariatpur. In such situations, in a culture like Bangladesh, some women put an end to their life to avoid social stigma that is attached to adultery and subsequent public humiliation. Whatever the case, the village arbitration is a criminal act, and those involved in the lashing of that vulnerable young woman must be punished without any mercy or delay.
   Hena Begum, a 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl, allegedly raped by a much older cousin died after being publicly flogged for adultery in the district of Shariatpur, media reports said. She was lashed 80 times and collapsed. Her family took her to a hospital, where she died.
   
   Criminal act
   The BBC branded the village arbitration as a fatwa, termed the tragedy as a lashed-to-death incident and related it to Islamic shariah law. The incident was criminal without a doubt, and such embellishments were superfluous.
   Generally, in a society like Bangladesh, when a woman is found guilty of extramarital relation, the village leaders show enormous interest to punish the woman. To give it a religious legitimacy, they call a semi-educated imam or cleric to pronounce a verdict they have already fixed. And this is how it gets the label of fatwa. Actually, in Islam, fatwa is a sought-for, non-binding legal opinion of a competent scholar of Islamic jurisprudence, which only the court can enforce.
   BBC’s and other Western media’s fondness of such occurrences involving Muslim society smacks of cultural caricaturing—-without going to the details of inherent ignorance on the part of a section of uneducated rural folks. There reportage is part of the bigger package of intellectual Islamophobia, as demonisation of Islam still seems to be the predominant policy of Western news media like the BBC.
   Conversely, the media giants like the BBC and CNN are quite silent about the undemocratic practices and violent activities of the current regime in Bangladesh and about India’s cruel treatment of Bangladeshis in the border region.
   This can be explained by the popular theory now common amongst people in this country that the current regime in Bangladesh came to power through a pre-arranged election orchestrated jointly by the West and India and that the West has strategic interest in remaining in the good book of India. As it appears, the West and India will keep playing their politics at the expense of the sufferings of Bangladeshis; and the cultural victim is always Islam.
   Email: honestdebater@yahoo.ca

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National negligence hindering
Haor development

Holiday Desk

Negligence at national level and the evil influence of black money into our political and economic system are hindering the development of wetlands (haor), the major source of food including rice and fish.
   The development schemes are failing to bring benefit in Haor areas as these are designed out of partisan political considerations without involving the people and also with an intention for plundering government and donors funds by a the influential quarters.
   It is why a comprehensive and people oriented plan should, be undertaken to develop the haors so that it can contribute better in our national economy.
   This has viewed by the civil society leaders and the debaters who took part in the a national debate programem held at Dhaka Reporter’s Unity auditorium with Justice Gholam Rabbani presiding over the session.
   Organiseed by Save the Environment Movement, the programme was also addressed by Abu Naser Khan, Shalla Union parishad Chairman Khirod Roy, Dr Halim Dad Khan, Haris Uddin, and a number of leading personalities of the haor area of Sylhet.
   Justice Gholam Rabbani said there could be no practical development in haor area without proper implementation of the 1972 law that provides for strengthening of local government system.
   Speakers on the occasion also demanded creation of a separate ministry for a balanced development by maintaining the biodiversity and ecosystem of haors of Bangladesh.

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Migration due to climate change demands attention: ADB

Governments in Asia and the Pacific need to prepare for a large increase in climate-induced migration in the coming years, says a forthcoming report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
   Typhoons, cyclones, floods and drought are forcing more and more people to migrate. In the past year alone, extreme weather in Malaysia, Pakistan, the People’s Republic of China, the Philippines, and Sri Lanka has caused temporary or longer term dislocation of millions. This process is set to accelerate in coming decades as climate change leads to more extreme weather.
   “No international cooperation mechanism has been set up to manage these migration flows, and protection and assistance schemes remain inadequate, poorly coordinated, and scattered,” the report states. “National governments and the international community must urgently address this issue in a proactive manner.”
   ADB expects to issue the report, Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific, in early March as part of a broader ADB project aimed at increasing awareness of, and enhancing regional preparedness for, migration driven by changing climate patterns.
   The report highlights specific risks confronting climate change “hotspots”, including mega cities in coastal areas of Asia. These hotspots of climate-induced migration face pressure from swelling populations as rural people seek new lives in cities. The problem is compounded by greater dislocation of people caused by flooding and tropical storms.
   “Climate-induced migration will affect poor and vulnerable people more than others,” said Bart W. Édes, Director of ADB’s Poverty Reduction, Gender, and Social Development Division. “In many places, those least capable of coping with severe weather and environmental degradation will be compelled to move with few assets to an uncertain future.”
   On the positive side, the report says that if properly managed, climate-induced migration could actually facilitate human adaptation, creating new opportunities for dislocated populations in less vulnerable environments.

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Sahara says: “RAB has earned
people’s heart”

Holiday Report

Home Minister Advocate Sahara Khatun has all praise for the role of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) in combating crime while rights watchdogs from home and abroad spat hate on excesses like extra-judicial killings during operation by the elite force.
   “RAB has already won people’s heart as a reliable force... and major challenges for them now is to control terrorism, militancy and narcotics,” she said after inaugurating the newly constructed building of RAB-11 headquarters in Adamjee EPZ area last Tuesday.
   The minister for internal security sang the praise of RAB and spoke of the force’s challenges ahead while talking to journalists. She also unveiled expansion plan for the special anticrime force that was introduced in March 2004 to stem the tide of serious crimes across the country. She also informed that the government would add two more battalions to bolster its force from the existing 12 RAB battalions.
   British HC
   Meanwhile, British High Commissioner in Dhaka Stephan Evans, asked by the newsmen last Tuesday said, the UK provided specific training to help the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) to meet its obligation to go about its business fully respecting human rights. Evans said the UK decided to impart training in the area where RAB needs support and assistance to develop its capacity and understanding about the importance of the human rights.

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Help needed

Seven years old Sajeeb is suffering from Blood Cancer. He is getting chemotherapy at Dhaka Shishu Hospital under Dr. Selimur Zaman Noor that will continue for 2.5 years. Parents are poor to continue the child’s treatment. Persons willing to help are requested to contact at 01922370957 (cell), GPO-9000 box no 259157, Khulna.

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