Internet business in pause mode

Over 700 applications for new licences, renewals stuck at telecom division

It has been around 17 months that the government halted issuing and renewing internet service providers' licences, creating a lot of mishmash in the business.

Some leading internet companies said they are losing a considerable amount of business as corporate offices are discontinuing contracts for this halt.

A senior executive of a leading internet service provider (ISP) complained that a multinational company recently discontinued its agreement with them for the absence of a valid licence.

He said they had fulfilled all renewal conditions and paid required fees and charges well ahead of the expiry of their five-year licence on October 22 last year.

Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) had also sent its renewal recommendation to the telecom division before the stipulated date. However, there was no response.

An official at the telecom division said there were over 300 such licence renewal recommendations awaiting a decision at the telecom division.

BTRC had also sent proposals to provide over 410 new licences, all of which were pending with the division, said the official.

The telecom division in June last year decided to stop awarding and renewing licences to check the status of ISPs, said the official requesting anonymity, adding, “But that status quo has never been withdrawn.”

Another official reasoned that the government might be waiting to decide on suggestions to increase licence fees and impose revenue sharing rules.

However, Sajeeb Wazed Joy, the prime minister's ICT affairs adviser, in a meeting two weeks back dismissed the suggestions and so the pending tasks may again be taken up, he added.

Shahjahan Mahmood, chairman of the telecom regulatory commission, said the internet industry was now on a “pause mode”.

“We are observing the situation and found that nothing is moving, which is negatively impacting the industry,” said Mahmood.

He said they were trying to break out of the stagnant situation. He hoped that decisions would start coming within a month or two.

The telecom act says the government has to give a decision in 180 days on receiving BTRC's recommendation to award a licence to a business.

Even if the application is rejected, the business concerned has to be informed through BTRC within the stipulated timeframe.

Md Emdadul Haque, general secretary of Internet Service Providers' Association of Bangladesh (ISPAB), said internet business has been running through tough times as there was a lot of confusion everywhere, starting from licensing to monitoring.

“We are observing a lack of regulation in the internet business and a lot of unlicensed companies are taking advantage of the situation,” he said. He said they requested the government to tend to the pending issues but that has not happened.

Right now there are 600 licences for internet business. Of them, 129 are for running business nationwide, 146 for specified zones and a good number for districts and upazilas, according to a BTRC report.

Besides, hundreds of business entities are also running operations illegally, said Haque.

He said the telecom regulator has limited capacity to monitor the business and that also created a lot of concerns over cyber security.

There are about 70 lakh active internet connections linked to ISPs as of August, using over 250 Gbps of bandwidth, according to the BTRC. The country's total bandwidth consumption is about 450 Gbps.


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