18.1.1 Communication is one of the basic physical infrastructures for economic development and plays a vital role in stimulating economic growth and improving the quality of life. Telecommunication and postal services reduce the need for travelling and thus save both time and money. Timely weather forecasting including the forecasting of natural calamities like cyclones, floods, etc. saves valuable lives and properties and helps in agricultural and other development. Although the contribution of transport and communication to GDP was quite significant, about 12 per cent in 1994/95, the present facilities, particularly in the area of telecommunication, are quite inadequate in terms of requirement, technology and quality of services. The number of post offices and the quality of postal services are also not upto the desired level. Because of the importance of communication systems in the socio-economic development, high priority will be attached to this sector in the Fifth Plan period.
18.1.2 #9; The communication sector comprises of Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board, Bangladesh Postal Department and Meteorological Department. Besides the public sector programmes, courier and telephone services are in operation in the private sector in a modest scale.
18.2 Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB)
18.2.1 Telecommunication is both an industry and an infrastructure, which helps other infrastructures to grow. Absence of good telecommunication facilities deters investments in other sectors of the economy. The telephone density in Bangladesh was about 0.39 per 100 people in 1996/97, far below the world average of 10 telephones per 100 people. This low density of telephone in Bangladesh is due primarily to inadequate investment in this sector in the past. In order to enhance the investment in the telecommunication sector, the government has been pursuing the policy of raising the public sector allocation on the one hand and attracting private sector investment by privatising certain services e.g. rural telecommuni-cation, cellular mobile service, paging and radio trunking services etc. on the other.
18.3 Review of Past Performance
18.3.1 #9; Financial and physical performance (1973-90): From 1973 through 1990, a total of Tk. 7,414.30 million in current prices was allocated to the Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board through Annual Development Programmes (ADPs). The total expenditure against this allocation was Tk. 7,043.60 million which was about 95 per cent.
18.3.2 In 1973/74, there were 60,000 telephones operating in the country (6,000 in rural areas and 54,000 in urban areas).The number of telephones increased to 120,000 lines in 1979/80 (10,600 rural and 109,400 urban) and to 182,000 lines in 1984/85 (26,600 rural and 155,400 urban).The telephone density of the country was 0.13 per 100 population in 1979/80 and it increased to 0.18 in 1984/85. The country entered into satellite communication after installation of a standard "A" Earth station at Betbunia, Chittagong in 1975. This facility for overseas telecommunication was further expanded by setting up a standard "B" Earth Station at Talibabad in 1981.
18.3.3 #9; In the Third Plan (1985-90), BTTB undertook a number of programmes / projects to expand and develop the telecommunication system of the country. The Third Plan target was to install 75,000 telephone lines (65,000 in urban areas and 10,000 lines in rural areas). Against this target, 59,190 telephone lines (53,500 in urban areas and 5,690 in rural areas) were installed during the Third Plan period. As a result, telephone density per 100 population increased from 0.18 in 1984/85 to 0.21 in 1989/90 and the total number of telephones in the country stood at 241,190 in 1989/90. Digital technology in the country’s local telephone system was introduced during the Third and Fourth Plans through the installation of 26,000 lines capacity digital exchanges (comprising six exchanges) and a 5,000 line tandem switching exchange in Dhaka city. The Dhaka-Khulna analogue microwave link was replaced by a digital system during the Third Plan. The expansion of Dhaka Telecommunication Training Centre (TTC) and the construction of the Telecommunication Staff College at Gazipur were completed during the Third Five Year Plan.
18.4 Performance During Fourth Plan(1990-95)
18.4.1 Financial performance : In the Fourth Plan, the total allocation for telecommunication sub-sector provided through ADPs was Tk. 14,228.10 million and the total expenditure was Tk. 13,524.80 million or 95 per cent.
18.4.2 Physical performance: The Bangladesh T&T Board undertook a number of projects to modernise, expand and develop the telecommunication system of the country during the Fourth Plan. Against a target of 103,058 telephone lines, 72,507 lines were installed ( 67,801 lines in urban areas including 46,851 digital and 4,706 lines in rural areas). As a result, the telephone density increased to 0.26 per 100 people at the terminal year of the Fourth Plan. However, 89 per cent of the telephones were in the urban areas and only 11 per cent in the rural areas.
18.4.3 During the Fourth Plan, 6 more district headquarters and other important places were covered with 9 auto exchanges and in the process, 3 manual exchanges were replaced by auto ones. The target for Public Call Offices (PCOs) at union level was 118, out of which 57 was installed. In the village growth centres, 84 PCOs were established against a target of 105. To increase accessibility of the telephone facilities to the common people 1,200 card phones were installed.
18.4.4 The Nation Wide Dialling (NWD) facilities were extended to 5 district headquarters and 4 other important places, thus covering all of 64 district head quarters. The overseas circuits were increased and a new Standard "A" Earth Station was set up at Mohakhali, Dhaka.
18.5 Performance During 1995-97
18.5.1 Financial performance: In 1995/96 and 1996/97, an allocation of Tk. 3,450.97 and Tk. 2,137.77 million respectively were provided of which the entire amount was utilised.
18.5.2 Physical performance: The total number of telephone lines were 463,185 in the public sector and 21,000 in the private sector upto June, 1997. The private sector is mainly confined to different thanas and villages. Besides, the number of cellular phones rose to 39,000 in 1996/97 over 2,000 in 1994/95.
18.5.3 In 1995-97, 95,000 digital lines were installed in Dhaka. In the same year 41,250 new digital telephone lines were installed in Chittagong. Internet connections were lined up in 1995/96 under private initiative with the support of BTTB.
18.6. Private Sector Participation
18.6.1 During the Fourth Plan period, the newly licensed private sector operators started their services. Bangladesh Rural Telecom Authority (BRTA) was given licence for establishment of telecommunication services at 199 Thanas. BRTA installed 27 exchanges at thana / rural growth centres. Pacific Bangladesh Telecom Ltd. started providing cellular mobile telephone service in the country. Bangladesh Telecom Pvt. Ltd. started the Paging and Radio Trunking services. Licence for establishing telecommunication services in 191 thanas was given to another rural operator Sheba Telecom Ltd. in early 1995.
18.6.2 In November, 1996, licences for cellular mobile telephone were issued to Grameen Phone, Telecom Malaysia International BD Ltd. and Sheba Telecom Ltd. This will increase competition in the sector and lower the cost of cellular mobile phone considerably. The new licencees have already started providing services. All these are joint-venture companies between Bangladeshi companies and foreign partners. Thus, in the private sector, there are 7 operators for different services. In addition, six private companies, namely, Integrated Services Network, Grameen Cybernet, BRAC, Prodesta and Spectranet have started providing Internet and Electronic Mail services in the country.
18.7 Constraints/Bottlenecks During Past Plans
18.7.1 Delay in land acquisition in many cases caused delay in project implementation. The tendering process, specially in case of the international tender for "Greater Dhaka Telecommunication Network Improvement (Phase-II)" took a long time in finalisation causing abnormal delay in implementation of the project. Also for want of a suitable collaborator, the project for "Modernisation of TSS with appropriate Technology Transfer for Manufacturing and Installation of 100,000 line Digital Switching Equipment per annum" could not make any headway.
18.7.2 As the experience over various plan periods has it, poor management, faulty preparation of the project documents, inadequate transfer of technology, too much dependence on the expatriate consultants, delay in recruiting the project personnel, frequent changes of project directors, lack of MIS and inadequate maintenance services and inability of BTTB to raise funds from the market, stood on the way of timely implementation of projects for development of the telecommunication of the country.
18.8 Fifth Five Year Plan ( 1997-2002 )
18.8.1 One of the main objectives of the Fifth Plan is to alleviate poverty through accelerated economic growth and the creation of gainful employment. The average annual growth rate of GDP during the Plan period is projected at 7 per cent. One of the prerequisites for accelerated economic growth of Bangladesh in a competitive environment is the availability of adequate telecommunication services for quick acquisition and dissemination of information, both inside and outside the country.
18.8.2 Objectives: The major objectives of the Fifth Plan for the telecommunication will be to :
a. ensure universal telephone services;
b. expand the telecommunication infrastructures in both the urban and rural areas so as to enable the providers to give one telephone per 100 people by 2002 against the existing 0.39 telephone per 100 people;
c. expand the international telecommunication circuits and ancillary facilities for smooth international telecommunication operations both in urban and rural areas;
d. ensure telephone connection to all industries, particularly those located in Export Promotion Zones( EPZs ) and industrial estates;
e. improve the quality of service;
f. develop necessary telecommunication network to facilitate export of software, data entry/data processing services and support the growth of informatics;
g. encourage competition between public and private sectors to provide best services at customer’s choice;
h. attract foreign direct investment (FDI);
i. increase the role of the private sector in telecommunication ; and
j. strengthen the Telecommunication Regulatory Board for the formulation of appropriate legal and institutional frames to introduce and sustain fair competition among the operators and to protect consumer's interest.