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GP revives the East India Company ghost!

Published : Thursday, 7 November, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 654
Observer Special

With over 70 million subscribers and a staggering 46.3 per cent market share of  mobile telecom businesses, Grameenphone (GP) has become ubiquitous name in Bangladesh mobile telephone industry. However, since its inception over two decades ago, the mobile operator has repeatedly engaged in bitter legal battles with Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Authority (BTRC). BTRC's list of old and new complaints against GP ranges from violating telecom laws, breaching clauses in the licencing agreement of a Broadband service, failing to comply with the  Telecom Act 2001, failing to clear previous fines and dues to many other operational and technical disputes.

Amusing as it may sound, when it comes to violating legal codes of conducts and market monopolisation - GP clearly resonates its brand motto Cholo Bohudur ( Let's go far), it appears the corporate house has just gone too far beyond the government's regulatory control.

Earlier in April of this year, the government had sent a notice claiming Tk 12, 579.95 crore dues from Grameenphone. Of the total amount, GP owes Tk 8, 494.01 crore to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) and Tk 4, 085.94 crore to National Board of Revenue (NBR). Earlier in February this year, the national watchdog declared Grameenphone as the operator with the Significant Market Power (SMP). The SMP is a regulation that imposes restrictions on an operator once it corners 40 per cent of the subscribers, revenues and spectrum, according to the regulation of the BTRC. The commission had found GP as the SMP in two     categories: subscribers and revenue.

Once again SMP was not implemented on GP because of stay orders, delays and legal complexities. And according to latest developments, GP authorities went to the courts since the dispute on overdue payments could not be settled with BTRC bilaterally.

As the final outcome on the series of legal arguments, the court has finally asked GP how much out of the total amount of undue payments can it clear. The HC has asked GP to pay Tk 30 crore of fines for providing broadband internet services under Go Broadband.

The point, however, we have numerable joint ventures and multi-national companies operating in the various sectors of this country, none of them have caused such a long list of legal and monetary disputes and especially for so long.

Over the course of the past couple of decades, GP, as according to numerable news reports and legal press releases, has clearly monopolised domestic mobile phone operating businesses in Bangladesh. Not only has it become the key player in snatching the lion's share of subscribers and revenue, it has done so by
following unfair means. For instance, the corporate house has deliberately provided NTTN internet service till 2016 even after its tenure expired. In this regard, the HC has asked the telecom regulator to assess through the auditor general how much damage to the state has been caused due to GP's continuation of providing NTTN internet service.

Grameenphone management team's least respect for the law of the land, illegal business practices, delays and foul play in paying taxes and dues , market manipulation by driving out competitors, therefore creating an exclusive monopoly business in Bangladesh is a stark reminder of the vanished East India Company's operations' in unoccupied Mughal India.
The British joint-stock company established to trade in the Indian Ocean region had ultimately ended up in seizing political control of the Indian sub - continent. But the primary steps to seize control had begun with interfering in Mughal domestic politics and policymaking. One by one the company's Machiavellian schemes had unfolded to establish the East India Company to emerge as the sole European trading powerhouse by dictating the ruling class, the rest we all know.

In the 21st century, we do not any longer have empires and colonies - in their place we have giant corporate houses - aiming to enter and control respective business sectors - at home and abroad. Functioning of Grameenphone in Bangladesh is the corporate tale of a similar modern-day East India Company at a different time with different commercial objectives and modalities.

The vanished company had extracted huge concessions from native rulers - GP in its place has been practicing unwarranted power over our successive governments to evade tax and expand its businesses in any manner. The GP's
army is somewhat replaced with its massive control in our mobile phone operating business. Imagine the repercussions - what would happen if GP disconnects millions of its subscribers without notice. Millions would become isolated at home and abroad.

The bottom-line: The government must take serious note of the situation before GP goes beyond control. By clearing all its pending dues GP must show sincere commitment to function with accountability and transparency.

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