The country’s top mobile operators are unwilling to participate in the BTRC’s upcoming 1800 & 2100 auction as long as their various issues, including SIM replacement tax dispute, are resolved.
Sources at the BTRC (Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission) said in February they fixed April 30 for holding auction to sell 1800 & 2100 MHz band but no mobile operator submitted application to the commission to join the auction.
The BRTC later rescheduled its auction date twice fixing May 20 and then May 27, but it did not get any response from the mobile operators.
Sources at the mobile operators said a meeting was held between the Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) of the four mobile operators and the BRTC chairman on March 18 in this regard.
Later, the phone companies sent separate letters to the Finance Minister in the first week of March for resolving the unsettled issues.
Later March 22, the companies again sent separate letters asking for deferring the auction date until the complexity over SIM replacement tax is settled.
SIM replacement tax claim is a long-disputed issue of about Tk 3,000crore, which has remained unresolved for the past three years.
The BRTC fixed the price of per megahertz spectrum of 1800 MHZ band web at US$ 3 crore and per MHZ for 2100 MHZ band at $ 2.20 crore as in the auction bid.
Secretary of Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTO) TIM Nurul Kabir said the investor organizations took the decision not to join the spectrum auction floated by the BRTC.
He said they have held several meetings with the Finance Minister, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) and the BRTC authorities seeking solutions to various issues, including SIM replacement tax and VAT on airwave.
He said, “We pay tax to the government after a client buys a SIM card from. But if the client loses his SIM and wants replaces the SIM, then why shall we have to pay tax again for the second time SIM? We’ll decide to take part in the auction after the government resolves the pending issues.”
Chief Corporate Affairs Officer of Grameenphone Mahmud Hossain said “Once the unsettled issues are resolved our investors will take decision over participating in the auction.”
Chief Operating officer of Robi Mahtab Uddin Ahmed said they did not take decision to join the auction as the disputed issues remained unsettled.
BRTC secretary Sarwar Alam said they sent a letter to the Posts and Telecommunications Ministry to make some changes in the spectrum auction to ensure the participation of all mobile operators in the upcoming spectrum auction.
The NBR had a longstanding dispute with the top four mobile operators over SIM replacement tax. It had been demanding Tk 3,100 crore from the four operators as tax for the SIM replacement since 2012, BRTC sources said.
Sources at the NBR said the four companies sold huge old SIMs to new clients as SIM replacement from 2007 to 2011 and they must pay tax on the SIMs, which are sold to the new customers.
But the mobile operators claim that they do not sell the old SIM to new clients as they just replace the SIM if any client loses it.