CAB opposes merger of Robi, Airtel

But majority welcomes merger move in public hearing

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission chairman Shahjahan Mahmood speaks at a public hearing on the proposed merger of mobile phone operators Robi and Airtel at the BTRC office in Dhaka on Wednesday. — New Age photo

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission chairman Shahjahan Mahmood speaks at a public hearing on the proposed merger of mobile phone operators Robi and Airtel at the BTRC office in Dhaka on Wednesday.

The Consumer Association of Bangladesh on Wednesday said that the proposed merger of mobile phone operators Robi and Airtel could create oligopoly in the industry that might affect the consumers.
The CAB made its observation in a public hearing on the merger conducted by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission at its office in the capital Dhaka.
Majority of the participants, however, said the merger would benefit the consumers as the joint strength of the two companies would create better network and thus increase the quality of the service.
‘The spectrum is a national asset which is not transferable as per some rules of the BTRC. So if the two entities merge the commission should look after the spectrum merger issue,’ said CAB lawyer Anik R Haque.
He said after the merger three large operators would hold 96 per cent of market share which would create oligopoly in the industry.
‘So there will be no new investment and the existing big ones will not feel the urge to improve their service. We have seen syndicated bidding during the spectrum auction of 3G,’ Anik said.
Fatema Awal, a lawyer, however, said that the merger would be beneficial for the industry.
‘We have to remember that being telecom operators, Robi and Airtel are also two companies registered under the Companies Act. And the merger will take place as per the Act. In the eligibility issue there should be no question as one mobile operator is merging with another,’ she said.
Journalist Mohammad Zahidul Islam said although the merger was needed for the smaller companies to survive in the market, the commission should look into certain issues.
‘There are audit objection against these companies which should be resolved before the merger. The BTRC should also impose condition for realising government dues from the
companies before the merger,’ he said.
Tarek Ahmed, a mobile phone user, said the merger would reduce the call rates as more customers would be able to talk on-net at lower charge as the customers could talk within the same operator.
Representatives of the other mobile phone operators Grameenphone and Banglalink said that the spectrum roadmap and technology neutrality was co-related with the merger for balancing the industry.
They also suggested that the BTRC should hold the auction of the remaining spectrum of 2G and 3G before allowing the merger.
BTRC chairman Shahjahan Mahmood said the commission would analyse the opinions given by the participants and would consider the valid ones.
‘Some of the opinions will help for us as that hinted new dynamics of the merger-related issues. We will take those into account after analysing,’ he said.
Malaysia-based Robi, the country’s third largest mobile operator, and India-based Airtel in September last year announced to go for a merger of their Bangladesh operations and also signed an agreement in this regard on January 29.
The merger issue is now pending with the High Court. The HC asked the telecom regulator to submit an expert evolution report on the proposed merger by March 22.

Source: New Age

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