Friday, June 21, 2024

Bandwidth poses problem of plenty

The country will get an additional 96 gigabytes (GBs) of Internet bandwidth from the international submarine cable consortium (ISCC) in the middle of
June this year, sources in Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company (BSCCL) say. At present, the country gets 44.6 GBs of bandwidth from the ISCC through the lone submarine
cable SEA-ME-WE-4.
BSCCL managing director Md Monowar Hossain tells The Independent that, from June, the country will have a total of 140.6 GBs of bandwidth.
“This is a huge amount. If it is used properly, it would make high-speed internet available across the country,” he says.
“The present number of Internet subscribers in the country is 1.20 crore but most of them are urban-based. If we want to utilise the increased bandwidth, we will have
to build infrastructure to take Internet to the villages,” he said.
Experts welcome the recent developments, but cautions that there should be a guideline ensuring a fixed subscriber-base under a certain bandwidth, otherwise people
will hardly benefit from the increased bandwidth.
Pointing out that only one-third (15 GBs) of the current allocated 44.6-GB bandwidth is used, experts say without an effective policy to maximise the usage of Internet
speed, the additional bandwidth will be a waste too.
“This increase of bandwidth will be wastage unless the authorities formulate a policy for its proper usage,” says Dr Satyaprasad Saha, professor of telecommunication
at BUET and a renowned telecom consultant.
Two-thirds of the allocated bandwidth are being wasted because of the government’s open-market approach in distribution, he says.
“Rather than having a policy to prioritise the potential sectors for bandwidth distribution, bandwidth is now provided at random,” he points out.
The government hasn’t taken the required initiative on the infrastructure front to bring its district towns under a high-speed Internet service (through the asymmetric
digital subscriber line or ADSL) regime so that the bandwidth can be used to capacity, he adds.
“I think time has come for proper distribution of the bandwidth. Educational institutions, telecommunication companies, ISPs should get a good share of the bandwidth
under a formulated policy,” Dr Saha says.
Bangladesh Telecommuni­cation Regulatory Commission (BTRC) is not sitting idle. Its officials say they have already fixed a conditional ratio for the Internet service
providers (ISPs) at 1:20— meaning one Mbps bandwidth should be distributed among 20 lines at the most.
However, BTRC officials admit, the ISPs don’t stick to the rule in the absence of surveillance.
The neighbouring India has a commissioned conditional ratio at 1:4 ensuring that one Mbps of bandwidth is distributed among four subscribers at the most.
ISPs have their own explanation in defence. “Yes, the government has reduced the per-Mbps-bandwidth prices but ISPs are also being ordered to get connected with the
Nationwide Telecommunication Transmission Network (NTTN),” Emdad Hossain, an ISP owner, says.
Hossain says ISPs now have to pay Tk 2 a metre to the NTTN for Internet line. “With that, our cost has increased manifold. So we try to accommodate as many subscribers
as possible within a certain amount of bandwidth,” he says. Due to the high overheads, only 50 ISPs are operational right now, says FM Rashid Amin, joint secretary
general of Internet Service Providers Association (ISPA).
“Two hundred and ten companies have the ISP licence but not more than 50 are functioning now. The high operational costs would push out of business another 20, by
2015, if the government does not come to their aid,” he says.
According to him, business profit is turning out to be very low.
“It is impossible to sell 256 Kbps at a price point of Tk 1,000 a month since ISPs themselves are paying Tk 10,000 to the International Internet Gateways (IIG) for one
Mbps. It would mean an ISP would have to subsidise a customer to the tune of Tk 1,500 at that price point,” he says. “I just only counted the raw cost of bandwidth
excluding the operational costs,” he adds.
The government has directed the ISPs to get connected to the NTTN being laid by the private sector, Amin says and points out: “For a developing country like
Bangladesh, the government itself should be laying the NTTN instead of giving the mandate to the private sector.”
“The price of Tk 2 a metre is too much to bear for small ISPs. I personally now have to pay Tk 16 lakh per month to the NTTN for my company’s network. If the NTTN is
spread across the country then I will have to pay Tk 30 lakh a month, which is too much,” says Amin, who is also the owner of Link3, one of the big ISPs.
“I have about 8,000 subscribers and most of them are corporate entities, so I am still in the business. But the small ISPs, who mainly deal with residential lines,
couldn’t cope with this huge cost,” he says.
Small ISPs don’t find the market lucrative enough for optimal distribution of bandwidth, he says adding: “So they try to get as many subscribers as possible within a
certain amount of bandwidth to make profit. As a result, customers have a slow Internet speed.”
Officials of two NTTNs – Fiber<\@>homes and Summit Telecommunications – say that getting connected to the NTTN will reduce cost for the ISPs in long run as, at
present, almost 70 per cent of the revenue of an ISP is spent on operational cost including manual repair of broken transmission lines.
“The ISPs are saying that getting connected to the NTTN is costly for them, but what about us? We are paying Tk 15 to 20 lakh (depending on geographical locations) to
lay one km of line and we expect to recover the cost after 10 years. We also want to business,” says Abbas Faruq, head of public affairs at Fiber<\@>homes.
Faruq says his company has already laid 400 km of cables in the capital. “Fifty-six ISPs, six large cable operators and four mobile phone operators – Grameenphone,
Banglalink, Citycell and Robi – are using our network at present,” he adds. “ISPs should get their cables encased in a common underground duct as it would cut their
massive operational costs. Now the cost seems high but, in future, there will be a win-win situation,” Faruq says.

-With The Independent input

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