Taking advantage of the absence of monitoring, illegal DTH (Direct-to-Home) operators have flooded the local market with connections, causing the Bangladesh government to incur losses of over Tk 800 crore annually.
The government has noticed such rampant use of illegal DTH services. Information minister Dr Hasan Mahmud recently warned such operators to scrap illegal connections by December 15.
Not only are such illegal DTH operators laundering huge amounts of money to foreign countries through ‘hundi’ by unauthorised operators, as a consequence, viewers are also abstaining from watching local television channels, said industry insiders.
The sources added that nearly one million illegal DTH connections are active in Bangladesh at present, but the figure is increasing rapidly. Tata Sky, DishTV, Sun Direct and AirtelDigital are among the dozens of foreign DTH brands being sold illegally in the market across the country despite a ban on such connections.
The unauthorised operators are siphoning off over Tk. 800 crore by providing these illegal connections and services, and, as a consequence, local industry has been severely impacted, said industry people.
A field-level investigation revealed that many shops in New Market, Stadium, Gulistan, Banani and a few other areas were selling illegal DTH packages, which include set-top boxes, remote controls, small dish antennae along with cables and accessories.
The DTH dishes of various foreign companies are seen on the rooftops of many houses and commercial buildings at Gulshan, Baridhara, Banani, Dhanmondi, Mohammadpur, Tejgaon and other areas in the capital. Such illegal DTH connections are also available even in rural areas across the country.
Officials at the information ministry said the government has not granted any permission to foreign operators to run such DTH business in the country. Instead, only two local companies were awarded DTH licences in 2013.
Beximco Communications, one of the licencees, is operating DTH services in the country while complying with the rules and regulations under the brand name of ‘Akash’. The company has been providing the services by transmitting signals from Bangladesh’s first-ever communications satellite, Bangabandhu-I. The other licensee is not operating currently.
The DTH system offers access to digital TV packages without any cable connection. The sources said by consuming illegal DTH services, the local people are also being deprived, as these do not offer or support Bangladeshi channels. Again, Bangladeshi channels are also losing viewers as these are not available in those DTH services.
A top official of the information ministry, preferring not to be named, said there are around six lakh DTH connections of Tata Sky in the market at present while DishTV, Sun Direct and Airtel also have big stakes in this illicit service business.
He said the illegal DTH brands are laundering money and depriving the government of revenue by resorting to various tactics with the connivance of a few local unscrupulous businessmen.
The official added that illegal DTH service providers do not charge monthly fees from their subscribers in order to avert the risk of being nabbed by the government agencies. The distributors instead take subscription fees for a year as payments for DTH equipment and users’ charges and send the money abroad through illegal means, he added.
Information minister Dr Hasan Mahmud said in a recent press briefing said many foreign companies are providing foreign channels through DTH downlink without the government’s approval, which will not be allowed to continue. “Illegal connections must be removed by December 15 this year,” he warned, saying the government will take punitive measures against dishonest distributors who do not scrap the DTH services by the government’s stipulated deadline.
The minister also said, “We have taken steps to bring discipline to the broadcasting sector of the country. No illegal practices will be allowed in the sector.”
An official at the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) said, “Indian DTH devices are smuggled into the country through different border areas. A huge amount of money is being laundered annually for this purpose while also causing revenue losses to the government.”