updated 1/17/2006 8:46:57 PM ET 2006-01-18T01:46:57

No more free talk time after midnight for Bangladeshi youths.

It's a matter of protecting moral values, as a government commission has ordered the country's mobile phone companies to stop providing free talk time because it is "spoiling" the younger generation.

The mobile phone companies in Bangladesh confirm receiving the Jan. 9 order from the Bangladesh Telecommunications Regulatory Commission, or BTRC.

The order, which sets no clear deadline for stopping the service, was issued after parents filed complaints with the commission, a top commission official on Tuesday told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity in line with official policy.

"It's all about moral values. The youths are being spoiled, it's changing their lifestyle," the official said, adding that they have records that many youths even do not sleep for an hour at night.

He said the free call service is disrupting studies and promoting "unnecessary" and "often vulgar" chatting between young people.

Three of Bangladesh's five mobile phone firms — Norway's Telenor subsidiary GrameenPhone, Telecom Malaysia's AKTEL, and CityCell, a venture between Singapore's SingTel and the Pacific Bangladesh Telecom Ltd. — offer the free calls between midnight and 6 a.m. to mainly young customers.

The two other companies, Egypt's Orascom Telecom Holding's Banglalink and the state-owned Teletalk, have no such service.

The GrameenPhone has more than 1 million youths who use such free-call package, called "Dejuice," according to Syed Yamin Bakht, a spokesman for the company.

The mobile phone companies, however, reacted sharply after getting the government order.

"It's really shocking. We don't find any valid reason for such behavior of the regulatory body," Bakht said.

Also, the order was frustrating for the users.

"It's ridiculous. It's not the government's duty to shape our very personal behavior," Zaman Ahmed, a university student who uses such free-call package, told The AP.

"We have computers with full of pornography sites. Now if you say we should not use Internet service, that'll be ridiculous," Ahmed said.

The country's mobile phone sector is expanding, and currently it has more than 9 million mobile phone users, according to the BTRC.

But industry insiders say the total subscription base will reach at least 21 million by 2007 in Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority and deep-rooted conservative nation of 140 million people.

The country's four private sector companies have invested about US$2 billion (euro1.68 billion), company officials have said.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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