Internet infrastructure starts taking shape
Author / Source : FAISAL MAHMUD
DHAKA, JAN 7: The Awami League-led Grand Alliance government has started taking steps to establish an internet infrastructure across the country, to fulfil its electoral pledge of creating a “digital nation”.
For an even expansion of such internet facility, the government has, in the past one week, reduced internet prices in districts by 50 per cent. It also asked six companies to lay out International Terrestrial Cable (ITC) to ensure uninterrupted internet service and re-chalked the roll-out target for a nationwide telecommunication transmission network (NTTN).
From the beginning of 2012, the state-owned Bangladesh Telecommunication Company Ltd (BTCL) is offering broadband connection with speed of up to 256 KB at Tk. 300 in districts. Previously, the price of the same amount of bandwidth was Tk. 600.
The BTCL divisional engineer (internet), Sunil Kumar Adhikari, told The Independent that the BTCL has been providing this package under its leased internet service. “We offer three types of internet connections, namely leased, broadband and dial-up services,” he said.
Adhikari also said that under the leased service, the BTCL uses gigabit Ethernet to connect to the NTTN network. “Under this arrangement, we use the NTTN to provide our services”, he added.
He said the BTCL has also taken other steps to ensure internet service to all. “We’ve already established landphone internet facilities under our dial-up service in 50 districts. Soon, all districts will be brought under this facility,” he affirmed.
The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) on January 6 handed over licences to six private companies to build and operate the ITC for backing up the country’s lone undersea cable to ensure uninterrupted internet services throughout the country.
According to licence conditions, the terrestrial cables will start offering services within the next six months. In September last year, the government had selected six companies to distribute the licences. Each of the companies deposited Tk. 2 crore as licence fee and Tk 1 crore as bank guarantee.
The licensees are Novocom Ltd, Asis-AHL JV, BD Link Communication Ltd, Mango Teleservices Ltd, Summit Communications Ltd and Fibre@home Ltd.
The companies will be able to connect with all neighbouring countries through terrestrial fibre-optic cables. The six cables will pass through Meherpur, Benapole, Sylhet and Comilla borders.
Talking to The Independent, Maj Gen Jia Ahmed, chairman of the BTRC, said the government is planning to get connected with the second submarine cable, SEA-ME-WE-5, very soon. “Expansion of the internet is the present government’s top priority and we are working on it”, he remarked.
He also said that the government is trying to make internet affordable for all. He said the regulator has given 14 large internet service providers (ISP) the licence to provide fixed wi-max service. “These ISPs are allowed to expand their business under this fixed wi-max service, so that they can lucratively switch to the nationwide telecommunication transmission network (NTTN) instead of using overhead cable,” he added.
The telecom regulator, however, recently amended its licensing guideline for the NTTN and included a new provision, so that each operator, as per the amended guideline, has an obligation to deploy its network in all divisional headquarters within the first year of its licence.
Under the amended guideline, all district headquarters of the designated zones and all upazila headquarters of the designated zones will have to be laid out by the NTTN licensees within three and five years, respectively.
Experts, however, are sceptical about the government’s initiatives to expand the internet infrastructure. Dr Sattyaprshad Majumder, professor of telecommunication engineering in BUET, said that two-thirds of the country’s current bandwidth are being wasted because of the government’s open market approach towards distribution.
“Rather than having a policy to prioritise the potential sectors for bandwidth distribution, the government is now providing bandwidth on a random basis”, he pointed out.
He said that setting up of such an internet infrastructure is not enough to increase the number of subscribers. The government needs to form a policy to provide a level playing field for the licensed ITC operators, he added.
“The government should also reduce the 15 per cent VAT on internet usage”, he observed.