Broadband internet user growth halts due to rising costs

During the three-month period till August of this year, the number of broadband connections remained unchanged at 11.1 million

With individual and corporate users opting to reduce their bills amid ongoing inflation, the growth of broadband internet users in the country has come to a standstill, between the months of June to August.

In February 2020, there were only 5.7 million broadband customers in Bangladesh, which rose to around 10 million in December of the same year, as people started to rely on the internet for work, communication, study as well as entertainment, especially during the pandemic.

However, this growth seems to have slowed down at the beginning of 2022.

During the three-month period till August of this year, the number of broadband connections remained unchanged at 11.1 million.

This means that the growing demand for internet connections that peaked due to the lockdown and the restriction of movement caused by the advent of the pandemic has hit a flat line.

Regarding why the growth has slowed down, Syed Almas Kabir, the former president of Basis and current president of BMCCI said: “Because we are not developing local content, the online delivery of government services is still very limited, and in many cases, require manual intervention as the processes are not fully online. The EdTech scenario is yet to take off. Although OTT services are gaining grounds, the regulations that are being drafted are discouraging new content and new investments. Most importantly, the transmission cost of broadband is still quite high, which results in higher cost of last mile bandwidth.” 

“Moreover, the NTTNs recently have decided to close down many of their PoPs throughout the country (limiting to only one PoP in one thana) to reduce operating cost making the reach of broadband internet even more difficult and costly to the remote users. This will affect the growth of digital commerce and IT freelancing,” he added.

According to Md Emdadul Hoque, president of the Internet Service Providers Association of Bangladesh (ISPAB), the demand for new connections from offices and businesses has almost stalled, as many people have already been connected to broadband internet in the last two and a half years.

“People have been compelled to spend less on the internet with the cost of living going up due to rising inflation”, Hoque said. 

Inflation within the country peaked at a multi-year high of 9.5% in August coming down to only 9.1% in September.

However, there has been a demand for broadband connections from customers in rural areas, but ISPs have not been able to capitalize due to the lack of transmission lines, according to the ISPAB president.

Citing 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, the top brass told media that ISPs are unable to expand their services to the remote parts of the country.

However, several NTTN providers refuting the claim of the ISPAB president, claimed NTTNs are present in almost every corner of the country, covering most of the unions.

“How are ISPs connecting their remote clients now? Even if it is true for some NTTN providers who are unable to connect ISPs to a specific area, that kind of generalization has no merit,” Sumon Ahmed Sabir, the chief technology officer at [email protected], one such NTTN provider, told the media.

NTTN companies rent out capacities of fibre optic cables to voice, internet and data service providers. 

Currently, six companies have the licence.

[email protected] Limited and Summit Communications, the two private NTTN operators that received the licence in 2009 and dominated 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 licences in 2012 but are barely visible.

Bahon secured an NTTN licence in 2019 to become the sixth operator. Its network deployment has been in the early phase.

Despite the halt in the growth of broadband internet service customers, there will be 200,000 new connections because of the effort of the ICT Division's digital connectivity project under which a supporting infrastructure is being set, according to ISPAB.

Internet subscribers totalled 127.2 million in August, down from 127.5 million a month earlier, according to data from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

The number of unique internet users, however, is much lower than the BTRC data since many people use multiple SIMs.

On the other hand, the number of mobile internet subscribers dropped by 300,000 to 116.1 million in August.

According to the new population census of the government, about 65 million people in the country do not use the internet.