Robi Axiata CEO Mahtab Uddin Ahmed (pictured) called for closer coordination between Bangladesh’s various government bodies to develop a synchronised policy to boost the nation’s digital vision and mobile internet penetration, which lags far behind neighbouring countries.
Speaking during an online panel session organised by the GSMA, Ahmed noted Bangladesh’s telecom regulator, National Board of Revenue and finance ministry are not talking to each other, leading to conflicting policies.
He cited efforts to encourage local handset production through increased import duties as an example, noting no local manufacturers reduced prices.
“Despite having a wonderful vision of a digital Bangladesh, there is a big gap between the government’s policy and the delivery of that vision.”
He identified high tax rates as the main priority in terms of action: “The tax burden is unbearable for not only for consumers but also for MNOs because it prevents investors from moving into this market.”
On the consumer side alone, between 25 per cent and 33 per cent of a BDT100 ($1.18) mobile bill goes to the government, Ahmed noted, adding the only way to bring people into the digital landscape is to remove such fees, which he likened to sin taxes levied on tobacco.
The gap between mobile internet coverage and internet usage in the country is 70 per cent, which Ahmed said is the highest in the region. And while regional smartphone penetration is 67 per cent, in Bangladesh it is 40 per cent.
He pointed to the transformation of India by Reliance Jio through low-cost feature phones, which helped push 4G penetration to 56 per cent.
“It’s two and half years since we launched 4G and we’re nowhere close to that,” he said, noting penetration stands at 21 per cent despite covering 80 per cent of the population.
The challenges are well known, he said, but noted there is a massive opportunity as policymakers are realising they need to start taking action.Subscribe to our daily newsletter Back