Mobile network ecosystem
Mobile telecommunication is one of the fastest growing industries in Bangladesh and mobile phones have had a transformative impact on the economic and social life of the country. The authorities can limit or shut down a mobile network on various grounds – be it law and order or other issues of national relevance. They also have ample powers to block websites and content that is considered to go against the government’s interests. Two influential media websites (Thedailystart.net and BDnews24.com) faced such official obstructions in 2018.
Aiming to make the cellular technology affordable to the masses, in 1996 the government awarded three GSM licenses to three companies which began operations with the technology the following year. Since then the mobile telecom industry has grown steadily, reaching the number of 1 million subscribers in 2002. Within the next 11 years, the number of subscribers exceeded 100 million. The expansion of the mobile services brought wide range of benefits to both consumers and businesses.
The expansion of telecommunication networks has strongly impacted the life of citizens, who now increasingly depend on such services for vast portions of their life - from ordering pizza or clothes to transacting money. Numerous small business enterprises have popped up in urban areas that are done through mobile services. Similarly, small traders in rural areas no longer need to visit the capital city for raw materials. All they need to do is to make a call or sending money through mobile banking services. This takes little time, making life of consumers easy.
Internet operations started on 4 June, 1996 through the government subscribing the VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) data circuit. Currently mobile devices are rapidly becoming the primary medium to access the Internet among all age groups. People from various occupations and income levels are using Internet for their occupational and personal needs. According to the Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission (BTRC), Internet penetration has reached 87.79 million, more than half of the country’s population.
The industry has given remarkable momentum to tower fabrication, mobile handset manufacturing, mobile banking, call centres, content development and value added services. Based on the proliferation of mobile industry, e-commerce has emerged as a new domain that has created numerous entrepreneurs.
Around 1000 e-commerce entities are operating through Facebook, which is in other ways known as F-commerce. The operators have created around 1.5 million direct and indirect employments, estimated by the e-commerce association of Bangladesh (eCAP).
The telecom sector is also becoming increasingly relevant for public funding. The industry’s value has reached over US$12bn, which is almost 6.2 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The government collects around 50 percent of this revenue as duties and taxes, making it a significant source of public finance, according to the National Budget for 2018-19 Fiscal year and AMTOB (Association of Mobile Telephone Operators in Bangladesh).
Tax revenue from the telecom sector is being generated in numerous ways. A large proportion of the value added retained by the mobile operators is used to pay taxes such as VAT (Value Added Tax), import duty, handset royalty and supplementary duty. Wage income accruing to employees is subject to income tax. Value added flowing to other sectors also generates tax revenue. In the whole, the government earns about 10 percent of its total revenue from the mobile telecommunication sector.
Mobile phone communication has also emerged as a suitable channel for both privileged and underprivileged citizens to access education, healthcare, agricultural information about seeds quality, market price and early disaster warning.