Govt clears way for issuing more ISP licences


The telecom regulator has resumed processes to award 524 new licences for internet service providers after a lull of one and a half years as the telecom division broke its silence on approving BTRC’s recommendations.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) will begin handing over the licences from next week and has already sent letters to the applicants asking them to deposit bank guarantees and fees and submit related documents, said a top official.

However, the Internet Service Providers Association Bangladesh (ISPAB) said it would invite more trouble for the business as most of the new entities are either politically backed or run by hoodlums.

About 500 ISP licences exist at present and though the number will double, the business volume is not growing proportionally, said MA Hakim, president of the ISPAB.

“We know that the market size, the user number and the usage are growing but the business is not increasing at that rate,” said Hakim.

Of the approved licences, seven is to run business nationwide, 14 in zones in Dhaka and adjoining areas, 81 in zones in the rest of the country, 216 in divisional towns, 28 in districts and 178 in upazilas, said a senior official of the regulator.

There are currently 499 entities operating ISP business, including 117 nationwide, 73 in Dhaka and adjoining areas, 57 in zones in the rest of the country, 175 in divisional towns, 29 in districts and 48 in upazilas, according to BTRC data.

“We know that this is a huge volume of licences and it can create some challenges, even for our day-to-day monitoring and regulatory tasks,” said the BTRC official requesting anonymity.

BTRC Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood at a meeting with reporters on November 29 said the commission’s activities have been facing stagnancy since 2010 as the posts and telecommunications ministry took over authority over some issues.

He said the ministry has not issued new licences for over a year for bureaucratic complexities.

Anyone meeting the criteria can apply for ISP licence and the telecom regulator only scrutinises documents and makes recommendations to the government, said the BTRC official.

The government takes all the decisions on awarding new licences and renewals as per the Telecom Act. The BTRC also sent 350 applications on licence renewals in the last 18 months. The telecom division is yet to take decision about them.

Md Emdadul Haque, general secretary of the ISPAB, said internet business has been going through tough times as there is a lot of confusion everywhere, starting from licencing to monitoring.

He said there are over 4,000 illegal internet business entities, so the threat for cyber attacks for the country is mounting.

“We are observing a lack of regulation in the internet business,” Haque said. The ISPAB has sent a letter to the BTRC, seeking an appointment to sit and discuss the issue.

There are about 53 lakh active internet connections linked to ISPs as of November using over 350 Gbps of bandwidth, according to the BTRC. The country’s total bandwidth consumption is about 530 Gbps.