• Thursday, Jun 30, 2022
  • Last Update : 04:24 pm

The going to get tough for OTT and messaging platforms soon

  • Published at 12:39 am March 7th, 2021
OTT platforms
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BTRC devising ways to tax leading messaging apps, and control 'objectionable' OTT platform contents

Business for over-the-top (OTT) streaming media services is brisk, as currently they do not have to pay any portion of their revenues as tax or value-added-tax (VAT) to the government.

But the government finally has had enough, and after failing to control the content flow of Facebook and YouTube, is trying to formulate policies on how to bring revenue from the said platforms, which include Viber, Messenger, Imo, WeChat, Line, Netflix, Amazon, BongoBD, Binge, BanglaFlix, iFlix, Bioscope, Hoichoi etc. 

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) has plans to form a guideline, which will enable them to control the platforms' content quality, as well as collect tax with the help of the National Board of Revenue (NBR.)

A committee has already been formed recently, with Abu Syed Diljar Hussain, a legal and licencing commissioner of the BTRC, as chairman, along with top NBR officials as members.

During the first committee meeting last week, members discussed drafting a guideline, as well as policies on how the committee should run, how to deal and communicate with foreign entities, etc.

They will also review the OTT guidelines of other countries for further information.

BTRC sources said that although it is easier to curb objectionable content of the Bangladeshi OTT platforms, leaning heavily on leading international messaging apps like WhatsApp, Imo and others are a different ball game altogether.

They are doing business here in Bangladesh without giving the government any share of their revenue. There is also no communication point established between the authorities and the said platforms, said BTRC officials.

Dhaka Tribune sent an email to the BTRC on Thursday, on how the whole mechanism will work, with the telecom regulator replying that as they do not have any data information about how the OTT platforms work, that is why knowing about the matter is a priority for them.

However, earlier in January, Shyam Sunder Sikder, the BTRC chairman, told Dhaka Tribune that they had previously been unsuccessful about controlling content on Facebook and YouTube and other leading OTT services, as those were coming through wireless services rather than through submarine cable connectivity, which made tracing and controlling difficult.

On January 18, the High Court had directed the BTRC chairman and information secretary to monitor and prevent indecent OTT content, as well as collect revenue (both tax and VAT) from messaging and streaming OTT platforms. 

The BTRC committee is also the result of the HC order for preparing a draft policy within three months.

“We heard that some local companies are doing business, allowing foreign OTT services but without seeking our approval. We are trying to find them and take necessary measures to ensure VAT and tax collection,” said Sikder.

Subrata Roy Maitra, vice chairman of BTRC, told Dhaka Tribune that foreign countries like Australia and even neighbouring India have formed relevant policies and legal framework to realise revenue from the OTT platforms. 

"Collecting revenue is the work of NBR. We all are working in this regard," said Roy.

Meanwhile, the country's internet protocol telephony service providers and operators are also parallelly working on a guideline for domestic OTT platforms, subject to approval from the department of posts and telecommunications.

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