Chief executive officers (CEOs) of the country's telecom operator companies have urged the government to cut corporate income tax so that the industry can provide internet access to common people at an affordable rate.
They argued that there is a clear digital divide which is a barrier to transform the country into digital Bangladesh and said the digital divide would not go unless a favourable regulator and tax regime is established.
The CEOs were speaking at a webinar styled "Role of Telecoms in Accelerating Digital Bangladesh", jointly organised by the CTO Forum and the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB) on Saturday night.
"A restrictive regulatory regime is one of the critical challenges for the telecom companies in achieving their vision," said Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, AMTOB President and Managing Director and CEO of Robi Axiata.
He added that the licences are very restrictive in Bangladesh while taxes and spectrum prices are unreasonably high.
"We have been talking for a long time about how to reduce the divide between the rich and poor," he said, adding that the telecom operators' vision is to bring digital benefits to every household.
When the 'Digital Bangladesh' vision was first enunciated by the government back in December 2008, Mr. Ahmed said it was well ahead of its time and naturally stirred a lot of curiosity at home and abroad.
He said the telecom industry pumped in billions in investment, which helped push the industry's contribution up to 6 per cent of the GDP.
Though there is debate over the quality of service and price, he added the industry has moved beyond the role of connectivity provider to creating digital solutions to turbocharge people's digital lifestyle.
"But the existing taxation and other regulatory cost structure hardly leaves any fiscal headroom for the industry to play the role it is well capable of; given the insatiable appetite for digital lifestyle among the people, such a situation is becoming increasingly untenable," he said, urging the government to address the policy bottlenecks through consultation with the industry.
"We have some shortcomings in our telecom policies and directives. However, we have been working to resolve them since I took the charge of the division in 2018," Mustafa Jabbar, minister of posts and telecommunications, told the meeting.
He recognised that there are some policy issues to take the telecom highway forward which needed to be made people-friendly.
He said the urgency of voice calls and mobile data has been highly understood during the outbreak of the coronavirus. Rural people also feel the need of mobile data at least to educate their children.
Tapan Kanti Sarkar, founder and president of CTO Forum Bangladesh, presided over the discussion, while Mohammad Ali, additional managing director of Pubali Bank Ltd and secretary general of CTO Forum Bangladesh, moderated it.
Yasir Azman, CEO of the country's largest mobile phone operator Grameenphone, said the industry has always been contributing to the development of the economy.
He emphasised that the existence of telecoms was like any other product that has been consumed.
"In the digital economy, the contribution of telecoms has significantly changed where it is being used to deliver a product and service to its end consumers," he added.
Azman, who is also AMTOB vice president, said their role as an essential service provider is now more critical than ever before. The Covid-19 has pushed us hard to innovate and leapfrog solutions that were not accounted for before the new-normal days, he added.
"With the excessively increased demand for connectivity now as an industry, we must work even closer to ensure supply and experience all over Bangladesh."
He said the government and regulators in the new digital economy needed to see telecom industry differently, not as a vertical commercial entity rather a horizontal integrator for all services to build an ecosystem of the digital economy which is unavoidable for the future growth of the country.
Talking about the prospects of 5G technology and challenges, Banglalink CEO and AMTOB sr. vice president Erik Aas said they are very enthusiastic about being a part of that ecosystem.
He said it is still too early for Bangladesh to launch 5G as many crucial parts of the ecosystem and regulation are yet to come into being.
It is necessary to formulate a favourable regulatory regime and reconsider a few crucial issues such as the affordable spectrum price, conducive infrastructure, appropriate policies and an acceptable taxation regime for building a 5G ecosystem that can make a sustainable impact on the country's digital advancement.
Among others, Md Shahab Uddin, managing director of state-owned Teletalk Bangladesh Limited, and Md Mohsinul Alam, director general of the Department of Telecommunications, also spoke at the webinar.