Broadband internet user growth halts due to rising costs

Growth in broadband internet users in the country stalled between June and August as residential and corporate customers choose to lower their bills in the face of persistent inflation.

In February 2020, Bangladesh had just 5.7 million broadband subscribers, which increased to around 10 million in December of the same year as people started to rely on the internet for work, communication, study and entertainment, especially during the pandemic.

However, this growth appears to have slowed in early 2022.

In the three months to August this year, the number of broadband subscriptions remained unchanged at 11.1 million.

This means that the growing demand for internet connections, which had peaked due to the lockdown and restrictions on movement caused by the emergence of the pandemic, has hit a flat line.

Asked why the growth has slowed down, Syed Almas Kabir, former president of Basis and current president of BMCCI, said, “Because we don’t develop local content, the delivery of government services online is still very limited and in many cases required manual.” Intervene as the processes are not fully online. The EdTech scenario is still pending. Although OTT services are on the rise, the regulations being drafted are discouraging new content and new investments. Most importantly, broadband transmission costs are still quite high, resulting in higher last-mile bandwidth costs.”

“Furthermore, NTTNs have recently decided to close many of their PoPs across the country (limited to just one PoP in a thana) to reduce operational costs, making broadband internet reach even more difficult and costly for remote users. This will impact 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 ground to a halt as many people have already been connected to broadband internet over the last two and a half years.

“People have been forced to spend less online as the cost of living has increased due to rising inflation,” Hoque said.

Inflation in the country hit a multi-year high of 9.5% in August and fell to just 9.1% in September.

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

Citing the inability of national telecommunications transmission network (NTTN) service providers to carry international bandwidth to and from domestic wholesale outlets, known as international internet gateways, over fiber, top leadership told the media that ISPs could not were to extend their services to the remote parts of the country.

However, several NTTN providers refuted the ISPAB President’s claim, claiming that NTTNs are present in almost every corner of the country and cover most unions.

“How are ISPs connecting their remote clients now? While this is true for some NTTN providers that cannot connect ISPs to a specific area, there is no value in this type of generalization,” said Sumon Ahmed Sabir, Chief Technology Officer at [email protected]one of these NTTN providers, to the media.

NTTN companies lease fiber optic cable capacity to voice, Internet and data service providers.

Six companies are currently licensed.

[email protected] Limited and Summit Communications, the two private NTTN operators that received the license in 2009 and each dominated the market with almost 50,000 kilometers of cable.

Three public entities – Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Ltd, Power Grid Company of Bangladesh and Bangladesh Railway – obtained licenses in 2012 but are barely visible.

Bahon secured an NTTN license in 2019 to become the sixth operator. Network deployment is in the early stages.

Despite the stagnation in the growth of broadband Internet service customers, ISPAB says there will be 200,000 new connections due to the efforts of the ICT Division’s digital connectivity project, as part of which supporting infrastructure is being set up.

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

However, the number of unique internet users is much lower than the BTRC data as many people use multiple SIMs.

The number of mobile Internet subscribers, on the other hand, fell by 300,000 to 116.1 million in August.

According to the government’s new census, around 65 million people in the country do not use the Internet.