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Dhaka Tribune

Internet user growth stagnates in October

The number of internet users dropped by 150,000 in October to 126.1 million from that of September

Update : 29 Nov 2022, 08:27 PM

The total number of internet users in the country, which includes both broadband and mobile data users, continued to stagnate in October.

The number of mobile internet users kept decreasing in the past three months, while growth in broadband connections came to a standstill in the month, according to data from the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).

The number of internet users dropped by 150,000 in October to 126.1 million from that of September, according to the latest regulatory data.

Since July, the number of internet users has fallen by about 1.4 million when the total number of internet users stood at 127.5 million.

Even the number of broadband connections, which saw massive growth during the pandemic, remained unchanged at 11.5 million in October.

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

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

According to industry insiders, 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.

Regarding why the growth has slowed down, Syed Almas Kabir, former president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (Basis) and current president of Bangladesh Malaysia Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BMCCI), said: “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, he also said. 

“Moreover, the national telecommunication transmission networks (NTTNs) recently decided to close down many of their PoPs throughout the country (limiting to only one PoP in one thana) to reduce operating costs, making broadband internet penetration even more difficult and costly to remote area 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.

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 NTTN service providers - which transport international bandwidth to and from domestic wholesale outlets called international internet gateways through optical fiber, 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, chief technology officer at Fiber@Home, 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.

Fiber@Home 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.

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.

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