Users, businesses are caught in the tug of war between the two city corporations in Dhaka and the internet service providers
At a time when people are more reliant than ever on the internet amid the Covid-19 pandemic, ISPs have threatened to impose a three-hour internet outage every day.
The move comes in protest of the ongoing drive by the two Dhaka city corporations to remove the tangled aerial web of wires crisscrossing the city’s skyline.
The removal of overhead cables would also disrupt cable TV services.
The tug of war between the city authorities and multiple internet suppliers have left hundreds of thousands of users in grave concern, especially since many are vastly dependent on the internet – for working or participating in classes – from home.
With the view to glamorize the city, the North and South city corporations have taken the initiative to remove overhead internet and satellite television cables.
Is this a right move, at the right time? Is the infrastructure ready for underground connectivity? Dhaka Tribune sought the answers from multiple stakeholders.
What’s wrong with overhead cables, underground connectivity?
In order to set up underground fiber-optic cables, the government awarded licences to six companies with Nationwide Telecommunication Transmission Networks (NTTN).
However, these NTTN companies are yet to fully ensure coverage in all the areas.
On the other hand, the distribution boards set up by the NTTN are not readily available everywhere, and the distance between two boards is only 1km. This causes a problem as “drop points” – from which another smaller connection is taken – are absent in most cases.
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In addition, distribution boards are set up on a main road, and an internet provider has to hang overhead cables to reach the residential customers.
NTTN, ISPs exchange blames
"We want a beautiful city and support the beatification move. But is this the right time? I would say, “No,” simply because the infrastructure is not there yet, to be connected via underground,” M Aminul Hakim, president of Internet Service Providers Association of Bangladesh (ISPAB) told Dhaka Tribune.
The basic need here is to make drop points available before removing overhead cables, but the NTTN companies are unwilling to set up drop points at a place from where residential buildings can be connected, said the business leader.
However, the NTTN companies denied the allegations and in turn alleged that they did set up distribution points at a possible distance, but the ISPs were unwilling to use it.
“It is not true. We have set up distribution boards at 200m-400m distances. On the other hand, in Motijheel, Karwan Bazar, Gulshan, and in six other areas, the distribution boards are there at every house level,” Abbas Faruque, head of government relations and regulatory affairs of [email protected] Limited told Dhaka Tribune.
“We even have distribution boards set up where the city corporations have cut overhead cables,” he said.
[email protected] set up optical fiber of 50,000km, of which 1,800km are in Dhaka North and South city corporations.
Meanwhile, the ISPs also claimed that NTTN companies do not have enough capacity to cope with the demands of its corporate clients.
Replying to the claim, Abbas alleged that about 90% of NTTN’s connectivity capacity remained unused. The internet service providers use only 10% but were unwilling to pay for it.
By threatening partial shutdown, the ISPs are indirectly pressurizing to lower prices, claimed Abbas.
Since the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) is responsible for price issues, this can be solved via a meeting among the parties concerned, he added.
What’s the solution?
The DSCC is adamant on their decision to chop down overhead cables, while the ISPs are threatening partial shutdown of connections.
“For years, the internet service providers were asked to remove the overhead cables but they failed to do so,” DSCC spokesperson Abu Naser told Dhaka Tribune, adding that removal of cables to free up space would be effective.
“So, right now the authorities are not thinking about pausing the drive,” said Naser.
When asked how people would communicate during the shutdown, Naser categorically told Dhaka Tribune to use mobile data for internet connectivity.
“But it is very pertinent to reach a solution to the crisis considering the ongoing pandemic, as people are highly dependent on the internet.”
“Shutting down internet connections will create havoc for city dwellers. Due to the pandemic, students join online classes, and people work from home. Other than that, banking services, digital marketplaces, and other similar online services will be disrupted,” Syed Almas Kabir, former vice president of ISPAB told Dhaka Tribune.
“Businesses will come to a standstill and it would cause huge financial losses,” he added.
“The first solution is to stop cutting down overhead cables, just so that people can lead normal lives. The second issue is to hold a multi-stakeholder meeting to find an alternative and develop a proper ecosystem,” said the business leader.
ISPs also called for lowering the prices and setting up distribution and drop points within a shorter distance so that they do not need to use overhead cables to connect to residential buildings.
Meanwhile, Posts, Telecommunications, and Information Technology Minister Mustafa Jabbar also called to resolve the crisis via a multi-stakeholder meeting.
“When the internet has become a part of life, any disruption in connectivity would cause problems for city dwellers,” said Jabbar.