High Court intervenes as mobile phone services drop

Frequent call drops, low internet speed, poor voice call quality and delayed call setup – these are common and long standing complaints of mobile phone users in the country.

The pathetic state of mobile internet speed in Bangladesh is also portrayed in various global indexes. For example, the December 2021 Ookla Speedtest Global Index ranked Bangladesh 128th out of 138 countries for mobile broadband speed, while a number of countries with poorer economic situations, such as Uganda and Libya, were ranked well ahead of Bangladesh.

Today the High Court stepped in to help provide a long-awaited solution to the problems faced by the country’s mobile internet users – particularly at this time of a pandemic when millions have come to rely on their smartphones as a fast way to access the Internet.

In an order issued on Sunday, the Supreme Court ordered the country’s mobile network operators to take swift action to ensure customers have clear voice calls and the fastest and most stable mobile internet network.

The court at the same time formed a five-member oversight committee to oversee the functions of the complaint cell of the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) for speedy resolution of issues related to mobile network and internet. mobile, and customer complaints.

The committee – consisting of the Secretary of Posts and Telecommunications, the Secretary of Information and Broadcasting and the Chairman of the BTRC, a lecturer from the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology and a representative from the Association of Mobile Telecommunications Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB) – was requested to submit a report within 30 days of receiving the court order.

The High Court bench consisting of Justice Mamnoon Rahman and Justice Khondekar Diliruzzaman passed the order with a rule on Sunday after a preliminary hearing of a writ petition filed in the public interest by Supreme Court lawyer Saifur Rahman Rahi.

Attorney MA Masum appeared in court on behalf of the petitioner, while Deputy Attorney General Bepul Bagmar represented the state.

Masum told reporters that the committee would report on the number of complaints, the amount settled and the prompt handling of unresolved complaints. The committee will also monitor the resolution of grievances and make an overall recommendation on what needs to be done to ensure improved, crystal-clear voice calls, as well as a stable mobile and high-speed Internet network.

In the rule, the High Court wanted to know from the respondents to explain in four weeks time why their failure to ensure a crystal clear voice for all, fast internet service and a stable network should not be declared unlawful and why the respondents should not be held to remove any time limitation from the data pack service allowing subscribers to use purchased data until it is fully consumed.

Post and Telecommunications Secretary, BTRC Chairman, Grameenphone CEO (CEO) Yasir Azman, Robi CEO Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, Banglalink CEO Erik Aas and Teletalk CEO Md Shahab Uddin and three other respondents been asked to comply with the rule within four weeks.

Petitioner Saifur Rahman Rahi, a subscriber to the four mobile network operators in the country, filed a complaint with the BTRC on January 5 this year against the loss of calls, weak network and limitation of the service time of data pack. Having obtained no solution from the BTRC, on January 10 he sent a formal notice to the respondents.

But without getting a response from the respondents, he filed a writ with the High Court last week asking for rules and directions.

Lawyer Masum told the media that cell phone users are suffering the most due to poor voice call service, poor internet speed and unstable network connections.

He elaborated on the issues citing their own experience. “During the pandemic situation, when the Honorable Court was operating virtually and even now at times, network signals became too weak in the Supreme Court premises and no one could make phone calls or connect to the internet.”

Even students, teachers across the country have found it difficult to participate in virtual classes, he said, adding that these problems were getting worse day by day, with no tangible improvement in sight.

“The Complainant Cell of BTRC receives complaints from customers. But there are doubts about the proper functioning of this cell. If it worked properly, these mobile subscribers would not have any suffering. That is why we filed the complaint in prescription,” Masoum added.

At the same time, customer complaints to regulatory authorities regarding telecommunications services are even increasing, but the rate of complaint resolution remains low.

Some 21,850 complaints were registered with the BTRC in 2021 while the number was only 12,832 in 2020, according to official data.

Of the total complaints filed last year, only 64% were resolved by the BTRC.

When questioned, BTRC Deputy Chairman Subrata Roy Maitra said they had heard of the High Court order and would take necessary action once the court order reached them.

Mentioning that the number of base transceiver stations connected to fiber optic cables in Bangladesh is well below the regional norm, Abu Saeed Khan, telecommunications expert and senior policy researcher at LIRNEasia – a think tank on Sri Lanka-based TIC, however, said that unless the transceiver base stations are connected with fiber optic cables, the quality of service can never improve.

“The overall quality of telecom services is bound to be substandard as the BTRC has banned mobile operators from using fiber optic infrastructure in their network stations,” he observed.

Business swell, no services

Telecom service providers in Bangladesh have witnessed a huge increase in their business in terms of revenue and number of consumers.

The industry has received 1.59 crore new mobile subscribers since the pandemic hit the country in March 2020.

In 2019, the number of mobile phone subscribers in Bangladesh was 16.55 crore, which increased to 18.15 crore in November 2021.

Along with the growth in the number of subscribers, the revenues of mobile network operators have also seen massive growth.

Grameenphone, the largest mobile operator in the country, recorded revenue of Tk 10,479.7 crore in the first nine months of 2020. In the same period of 2021, its total revenue rose to Tk 10,678.5 crore.

The other two private mobile operators also recorded growth in their revenues.

During the first nine months of 2020, Robi Axiata Limited had a turnover of Tk 5,644.1 crore, which increased to Tk 6,096.8 crore in the corresponding period of the following year.

Banglalink, the third largest mobile operator in the country, saw its revenue rise to Tk 3,564.4 crore in January-September last year from Tk 3,424 crore in the same period a year ago. year.

Operators fail to meet local speed standard

According to the December 2021 Ookla Speedtest Global Index, Bangladesh ranks 128th for mobile internet and 94th for fixed broadband on the speedtest index.

The poor state of mobile internet speed in the country is also described in BTRC’s recent Quality of Service (QoS) report, in which none of the carrier’s internet download and upload speeds was found to meet the standard.

Most operators were found to be non-compliant with the BTRC benchmarks for providing fourth generation (4G) internet services.

Last week, the BTRC revealed the QoS report of the Rangpur division, where three out of four mobile operators in the country were found to be non-compliant in providing minimum 4G speed.

Market leader Grammenphone, along with Banglalink and state-owned Teletalk failed to meet the 4G speed benchmark in the division.

In Sylhet and Rajshahi divisions, all mobile operators except Banglalink were found to provide lower speed of 4G compared to the local benchmark.

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