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HC issues rule over merger of mobile phone operators Robi, Airtel

By bdnews24.com
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The High Court has issued a rule over the planned merger of mobile phone operators Robi and Airtel. After initial hearing of a petition filed by an Airtel subscriber Nazmus Sakib al Azam, the bench of justices Tariq ul Hakim and Farid Ahmed Shibli gave the order on Sunday. It asked why the matter will not be resolved upon evaluations carried out by the Bangladesh Competition Commission. Secretaries to the Cabinet division, ministries for commerce and telecommunication, competition commission as well as Robi and Airtel authorities have been asked to come up with explanations by four weeks.
"The approval of the merger means 96 percent of the market share will be held by three operators, which will discourage new investments and less competition will deprive consumers," said lawyer Yousuf Ali, who represented the petitioner on Sunday.
The Competition Act, formulated in 2012, stipulates the forming of a commission. A secretary has been assigned for the body but the government is yet to appoint a chief. In September this year, the mobile phone operators wrote to the telecoms regulator seeking permission for a merger.
In the letter, they said Malaysia-based Axiata Group and NTT DoCoMo Inc of Japan would have a 75 percent share and India's Bharti Airtel would retain a 25 percent share after the merger.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) said that they would go for an impact study on the proposal.
Robi is the second largest mobile operator in Bangladesh in terms of revenues. It is majority-owned by the Malaysia-based Axiata Group, one of the leading telecom companies in Asia. Japan's NTT DOCOMO has a substantial stake in the company.
Bharti Airtel ventured into Bangladesh in 2010 after acquiring a 70 percent stake in Warid Telecom. Three years later, Bharti Airtel Holdings Limited, a subsidiary of Singapore-based Bharti Airtel, acquired the remaining 30 percent.
According to figures by the BTRC, the number of mobile phone subscribers in Bangladesh until October this year is 131.99 million. Robi and Airtel rank third and fourth among the six operators in Bangladesh with a subscriber base of 28.28 million and 9.98 million respectively.
If the two operators merge, they will become the second largest operator in Bangladesh in terms of subscribers.
Grameenphone, a subsidiary of Norway's Telenor, has the largest subscriber base of 55.89 million, latest data shows.

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