Broadband internet user growth hits a plateau
The growth of broadband internet subscribers in Bangladesh has flattened in the last three months as both individual and corporate users have moved to cut their bills to deal with soaring inflation.
In the three months to August, the number of broadband connections has remained unchanged at 1.11 crore, indicating that the high demand for internet connections seen during the peaks of the coronavirus pandemic has reached a plateau.
"The demand for new connections from offices and businesses has almost stalled," said Md Emdadul Hoque, president of the Internet Service Providers Association of Bangladesh (ISPAB), the platform of last mile cable internet service providers.
Besides, many people already have been connected to broadband internet in the last two and a half years since they have had to rely on internet to work, communicate, study and get entertained for the deadly virus.
In February 2020, there were only 57 lakh broadband customers in Bangladesh. The number rocketed to around 1 crore in December in the same year. But the growth began slowing down at the beginning of 2022.
It came as users have been compelled to spend less on internet since the cost of living has gone up for the higher inflation, which rose to a multi-year high of 9.5 per cent in August before decelerating to 9.1 per cent in September.
According to Hoque, there is demand from customers in remote areas, but ISPs can't connect them due to a lack of transmission lines.
He alleged that owing to the inability of national telecommunication transmission network (NTTN) service providers, which transport international bandwidth to and from domestic wholesale outlets called international internet gateways through optical fibre, ISPs can't expand their services to the remote parts of the country.
NTTN companies rent out capacities of fibre optic cables to voice, internet and data service providers. Currently, six companies have the licence.
Fiber@Home Limited and Summit Communications, the two private NTTN operators that received licence in 2009, dominate the market, with nearly 50,000 kilometres of cables each.
Three public entities -- Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd, Power Grid Company of Bangladesh, and Bangladesh Railway – got licence in 2012 but are barely visible.
Bahon secured NTTN licence in 2019 to become the sixth operator. Its network deployment has been in the early phase.
NTTN operators, however, refuted the claim of the ISPAB chief vehemently.
"How are they connecting their remote clients now? It might be true for a specific place for a specific NTTN. But such generalised comment has no merit," said Sumon Ahmed Sabir, chief technology officer at Fiber@Home.
According to Sabir, NTTNs are present in almost every corner of the country, covering most of the unions.
Hoque said there will be two lakh new connections soon thanks to the infrastructure being set up under the ICT Division's digital connectivity project.
The number of mobile internet subscribers dropped by three lakh to 11.61 crore in August.
Internet subscribers totalled 12.72 crore in August, down from 12.75 crore a month earlier, data from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) showed.
The number of unique internet users, however, is much lower than the BTRC data since many people use multiple SIMs.
According to the new population census of the government, about 6.5 crore people in a country of 16.51 crore don't use internet.