Bangladesh Election: Digital service business hit by election nerves
12:00 AM, December 26, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:52 PM, December 26, 2018

Digital services hit by election nerves

Digital service business has shrunk unexpectedly ahead of the 11th general election on December 30, in a puzzling development for the industry that was anticipating a spike amid the growing tendency towards digital campaigns.

December has been the worst month this year from a business point of view, said mobile operators, broadband providers, mobile handset companies and wholesale bandwidth suppliers.

Data usage, both through mobile network and broadband, has drastically declined, said Sumon Ahmed Sabir, chief technology officer of Fiber@Home, the leading wholesale bandwidth supplier.

For instance, usage of Facebook, the most widely used social media platform in Bangladesh, dropped about 30 percent compared to last month.

Facebook data usage was about 28 Gbps in November, but as of this week Fiber@Home recorded 18 Gbps. “We had estimated that the usage would increase and taken preparation for that, but surprisingly people are not using Facebook as much.”

One of the reasons for the drop in usage of Facebook could be that people are nervous of putting something out on the medium that might land them on the wrong side of the Digital Security Act 2018.

“So, people are avoiding using Facebook before the election,” Sabir said.

Mobile operators said they observed 5 to 7 percent drop in revenue in December from both the voice and data segment from a year earlier.

Traditionally, the final quarter of a year is the revenue harvesting one, but this year has been different.

“In the last one week, the situation has gone from bad to worse,” said a top executive of an operator requesting anonymity. However, the industry was estimating a spike of at least 10 percent ahead of the general election, he said. “We have been observing an unusual downtrend in business, which we didn't expect,” said Ekram Kabir, a vice-president of Robi.

Voice and data are both showing unusual dip, and even an innovative digital campaign could not prevent the downtrend, he added. “In my career I have never seen this type of sales decline in a single month,” said Rezwanul Haque, the immediate past general secretary of the Bangladesh Mobile Phone Importers Association.

In December, handset sales slumped 30-40 percent from the previous month. “We are stunned by the crash in sales,” said Haque, also the chief executive officer of Transsion Bangladesh, a Chinese handset manufacturer.

In terms of mobile handset sales, this year has been the worst in five years and for the first time smartphone sales clocked in negative growth, he added.

Broadband service providers also said they were observing a slump in business volume in December, with customers raising huge complaints.

Google users in Bangladesh have been facing difficulty in accessing Gmail, Google Ads and Google Drive in the last two weeks due to the government blocking certain websites and portals. “That impacted the business,” said Mohammad Aminul Hakim, president of the Internet Service Providers Association of Bangladesh.

However, e-commerce businesses said they were yet to register a drop in sales but they too apprehended their orders might decline in the next couple of days.

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