The head of Bangladesh's leading mobile phone company says the burgeoning industry's growth could be jeopardized if the government moves ahead with a proposed license renewal charge.
The country is due to renew its 15-year second-generation licenses for four mobile operators later this year, but the chief executive officer of Grameenphone Ltd., a joint venture with Norwegian Telenor ASA, says the government's plan would give his company a "punishment" for being the country's biggest in terms of market share and revenues.
Tore Johnsen said the company will have to pay more than the other three companies for the same frequencies used to provide services.
According to the government proposed 2G license renewal guidelines, the license fees charged to Grameenphone will be multiplied based on each company's use of the frequency. Grameenphone's fees would be multiplied by 1.6, while the multipliers for the other operators would range from 0.45 to 1.1.
"This is unfair. This is illegal," Johnsen told The Associated Press on Thursday in an interview. "This is sort of discrimination against us, and Bangladesh's telecommunication laws do not support it."
The operators recently met Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith and appealed for reviewing the license renewal rules. Johnsen left open the possibility of a lawsuit but said Grameenphone wants to avoid legal action.
The government says it is looking into the issue but nothing has been decided yet.
Grameenphone is the mobile market leader in Bangladesh with more than 33 million subscribers, or about 45 percent of the market. The company signed up 6.7 million new subscribers and crossed the $1 billion revenue mark in 2010 up 14.4 percent from the previous year.
The sector is booming in Bangladesh, a nation of 160 million people. About 75 million of them now have cell phones, according to the state-run Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.
Johnsen said the sector has room to grow if there are "long-term, predictable" regulatory measures, and if the companies feel comfortable to invest more in improvements such as 3G telecommunication services.
He, however, praised the government's recent measures to reduce by 200 takas ($2.85) from 800 takas ($11.42) the tax for each new service connection.
CityCell, a joint venture with Singapore's SingTel; Robi, jointly owned by Malaysia's Axiata and Japanese NTT DoCoMo; and Banglalink, owned by Egypt's telecom giant Orascom, are the other companies that are to renew their licenses for their operations in Bangladesh.
There are two other mobile phone companies one is operated by a state-run company and another by India's Bharti Airtel but they do not need license renewal for now.
The country's six mobile operators have invested about $5 billion in the sector.