Despite the increase in demand, the lack of supply and rising costs are not good for Internet service providers. Most of the service providers in this sector are now in miserable condition and some others are about to close the services under the pressure of middlemen.
Talking to the concerned people in the sector, it has been learned that even though the offices and shops are closed due to ongoing lockdown, commercial and official works are going on at home. As a result, internet demand has increased by 30 percent and bandwidth demand by 20 percent.
But it is getting difficult to get corporate or commercial bills. Again, even if the business goes on at home, the Providers have to knock from one door to another to get the residential bill. In the last six months, the service charge rate has decreased by 30 percent. In all, the cost of providing internet services at the customer level has increased by 15-20 percent.
But, in order to ensure uninterrupted broadband connectivity which is the backbone of Digital Bangladesh, a large sum of money has to be paid every month at the upstream level. The service providers are now struggling to meet the management costs. Without new investment, it has become difficult to continue this sector. ‘On top of this, the traders are witnessing the ‘irregular cable cutting’ and ‘withdrawal of ‘cache server’ as a blow to death.
Saiful Islam Siddique, managing director of ICC Communications Limited, one of the country’s leading internet service providers, believes that such a situation is undermining the rights of ISPs and hindering the development of digital Bangladesh.
“The Internet is our fundamental right,” he said. “This right is now being compared in parallel with breathing. ‘One Country One Rate’ is a timely and landmark Decision in Building Digital Bangladesh under the able leadership of Hon’ble Adviser Sajib Wazed Joy, Which is the first strong step to make the internet easily available to people of all walks of life. Internet Service Providers or ISPs have the authority to provide Internet services directly to the last mile customer. Only licensed companies have the right to provide this service across the country. But lately, some restrictions are coming and various decisions are coming which have made it difficult for ISPs to survive and a major obstacle in conducting business independently. Pulling out field-level cache servers on the pretext of security alone will cause ISPs to fail to provide Google or Facebook services at the right speed and will put additional pressure on the NTTN network that the current NTTN and IIGs cannot afford. Similarly, they are missing their strong pop at the local level. This will create an exclusive business space for IIGs and NTN operators and will enable ISPs to compete in the market.”
Despite providing internet services for years, traders in this sector are still surprised that they are not yet included in the internet reliance service or ITES service. Although the government has given various financial incentives to small and medium enterprises in the ongoing pandemic, they have not been able to match even a bit of it.
Emdadul Haque, Secretary-General of ISPAB, a commercial organization of internet service providers, said, “We make demands on ITS every year, we go to the ministry, but finally it is not done.” I don’t understand why. The government wants to increase broadband internet services but is not looking at ISPs. Even though NTTNs get this facility. Those who are taking broadband internet to grassroots do not get any benefit from the government in any way.
The ISPAB leader lamented the current plight of the ISPs that launched internet services in the country, adding, “Before the advent of submarines and ITCs, we provided internet services to the country through V-SAT, imported bandwidth, created network. In this way, we have brought the Internet to the doorsteps of the people. But now some middlemen have been created in the middle. It has also been said that those who do ISP business will not be able to do that business. Thus the middle group is taking payment from us every month. But due to many humanitarian reasons, we are not able to collect bills from the marginal stage. Even if the digital connection is intact, a lot of money has to be waived. The difficulties are on all the ISPs and the middlemen are taking their payments uninterruptedly. In many cases, some middlemen are taking money in advance. This is how we are being exploited. We may still be running this business for our living. But only time will tell how long we may continue.
This frustration and sadness now pervade the entire ISP sector. Considering the situation, about 2,000 traders and more than 500,000 workers are at risk of their lives and livelihoods. There have been fears that Internet service management will collapse at the marginal level.