Global orgs urge BTRC, telcos to provide unfettered internet
A group of global and regional organisations working on connectivity and ending internet shutdowns today urged the telecom regulator and mobile operators to ensure unhindered mobile internet access during BNP's rally in Dhaka tomorrow.
This comes as mobile users could not get internet access at the venue and adjacent areas during BNP's 13 rallies in key cities across Bangladesh recently.
The disruption usually occurs for several hours from morning to night on the day of the rallies.
For example, BNP held its divisional rally in Barishal on November 5 and the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission's engineering and operation division directed the mobile operators to shut down 3G and 4G data services in Barishal City Corporation from 10:00am to 8:00pm, according to an email seen by The Daily Star.
A similar direction was issued during BNP's rallies in Khulna, Rangpur, Cumilla, Rajshahi, and Faridpur.
People in those cities attending the rallies said their internet speed was very slow, making them unable to initiate online calls and live telecasts of the event.
The 3G and 4G technologies provide mobile internet services while 2G voice calls. However, 2G service is kept operational, allowing users to make voice calls.
"Besides losing customers' trust, we lose big revenue for such shutdowns," said an official of a mobile operator on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Subsequently, the #KeepItOn coalition -- a global network of over 280 organisations from 105 countries working to end internet shutdowns -- appealed "to maintain unfettered access to the internet for all, and to protect people's fundamental rights and freedoms, especially in times of protest".
Slowing down internet connection to quell dissent is a direct violation of the fundamental right to freedom of expression, provided in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, said the letter signed by 20 organisations.
"In direct violation of people's human rights in Bangladesh, internet connectivity has been reportedly slowed down over the last few weeks, with a perceived link to the ongoing and imminent protests by the opposition party, including on December 10, 2022, which, ironically, is International Human Rights Day."
Shutdowns make it extremely difficult for journalists, the media and human rights defenders to carry out their work, thereby denying people both inside and outside of the affected country access to credible information, it said.
"We respectfully call on the BTRC and all public authorities and telecommunication and internet service providers operating in Bangladesh to not take any actions, including during protests, that would interfere with internet access, and to immediately end any ongoing restrictions."
Open, secure, reliable and accessible internet is vital to exercise and protect human rights, the coalition said in a letter that was also sent to the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh.
BTRC Vice-Chairman Mohiuddin Ahmed denied sending any instruction for mobile internet shutdown.
"It's wrong information. Sometimes, such problems occur in areas where mass gatherings take place due to system overloading," he told The Daily Star this evening.
Signatories in the letter include: the US's WITNESS, PEN America, Access Now, ARTICLE19, ARTICLE19 South Asia, Centre for Media Studies & Peacebuilding, International Press Centre, JCA-NET(Japan), Manushya Foundation, Office of Civil Freedoms, among others.