The country's mobile phone operators have lost Tk 8.5 billion they could have pocketed from mobile financial services, in the past five years, claims Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh (AMTOB).
This happened because. AMTOB argued, mobile financial services (MFS) providers used the unstructured supplementary service data (USSD) feature for free.
When an MFS customer sends or recieves money, they both recieve confirmation texts. They also get texts when they dial a certain number to know the balance. This service is named USSD.
Till date, AMTOB said, the mobile phone operators only get money when a monetary transaction is done, but nothing when a customer checks balance or pays an utility bill.
The AMTOB says the operators want Tk 1.5 to Tk 2 per message for such services now.
To this end, the platform recently sent a letter to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.
MFS providers such as Bkash or Rocket, however, say if the customers have to pay for every session using USSD it will have a negative impact on the MFS sector, as the customers will have to pay more for these services.
To find a solution, a meeting was scheduled for Tuesday with Bangladesh Bank governor Fazle Kabir in the chair. Officials of the BTRC, the mobile phone operators and others stakeholders were expected to attend the meeting.
For every Tk 100 transacted in MFS, a customer is charged Tk 1.85. As many as 77% of this goes to the agent while the mobile phone operators get 7 per cent and the mobile financial service providers 16 per cent. However, most of the agents take Tk 2 for every Tk 100.
AMTOB says the MFSs do not pay them for 86 per cent of the USSD services they provide. As a result, they earned Tk 8.4760 billion less than what was expected in the last five years. The BTRC also lost Tk 550 million during this period.
After AMTOB pressed home the demand, the BB sat for a meeting with the operators and MFS providers in October 2016. The meeting recommended using the 'cost modeling' method to distribute the earnings from the USSD.
The operators say two years back around 3.8 million USSD were used by MFS customers, which has jumped to 45.6 million. They say earnings from USSD remains the same despite the usage getting multiplied by 12 times.
Bkash data say they have paid five private mobile phone operators Tk 1.39 billion between 2013 and 2015 for USSD services.
Bkash head of corporate communications Shamsuddin Haider told Prothom Alo that they expect the regulatory body to take a decision that does not go against the interest of the country's over 50 million customers.
As per Bangladesh Bank data, there are 53.7 million MFS accounts while 27.4 million of them are active. These accounts make transactions worth Tk 10 billion every single day.
* This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Quamrul Hassan.