The prime minister's ICT affairs adviser has directed the telecom regulator to take opinion of the public before finalising its recommendations on the merger of Robi and Airtel, telecom division officials said.
Speaking at a meeting on December 15 at the secretariat, Sajeeb Wazed Joy also asked the regulator to form a committee to analyse the market situation and help make better recommendations.
“At the same time, he directed the regulator to follow international best practices for the merger,” a senior official said.
Although the ICT adviser stressed the need for a public hearing, he did not discuss the process, according to the official.
“It can be done through web discussions, receiving opinions through emails or even a gathering of customers, industry experts and lawyers,” the official said.
On September 9, the parent companies of Robi and Airtel opened talks on a possible merger to become the second largest mobile phone operator after Grameenphone.
They jointly sought permission from Bangladesh Telecommu-nication Regulatory Commission on September 17; the telecom watchdog had primarily approved the merger, with some conditions.
However, the regulator has then decided to appoint two eminent professors of two different universities to find out the socio-economic implications of the merger.
The officials of the telecom division said the ICT adviser also directed them to think about the issues of merger and the planned spectrum auction, and take decisions on them separately.
The government had planned an open spectrum auction for both the 1,800 MHz and 2,100 MHz bands to earn around Tk 5,000 crore. But industry insiders said if the merger is completed before the auction, then the government cannot get lucrative prices from selling the spectrum.
Sources said, if Robi and Airtel merge, their joint spectrum will be around 40 MHz and they may not take part in the auction. So, the government wants to complete the auction before deciding on the merger.
Telecom Secretary Md Faizur Rahman Chowdhury said they are yet to start dealing with the merger issue.
“It is now an issue of the BTRC and they have to comply with all the decisions that have been taken by the ICT adviser,” he said.
In the merged entity, Robi will have a 75 percent stake, while Airtel the rest.
Of Robi's 75 percent stake, 70 percent will be owned by Axiata Group, Robi's Malaysia-based parent company, and 5 percent by Japan's NTT Docomo. At present, Axiata Group's share in Robi is 91.59 percent and NTT Docomo's 8.41 percent.
As of November, Robi's customer base stood at 2.83 crore and Airtel has 1.04 crore active connections. The combined entity will have the second largest subscriber base in Bangladesh. Grameenphone, the largest operator, has 5.65 crore subscribers.