Bangladesh must lead the way to decolonise Asia’s internet

Published : 27 Dec 2015, 01:19 PM
Updated : 27 Dec 2015, 01:19 PM

International internet bandwidth is the prime raw material of broadband. Bangladesh, along with developing Asia, procures it mostly from the wholesale markets of Singapore and Hong Kong. Asian telecoms carriers use submarine optical fiber networks to import bandwidth from wholesale markets. Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company (BSCCL) uses the SEA-ME-WE4 cable for this purpose.

Deploying and maintaining the submarine cables is far more expensive than the terrestrial ones. That's why Asia's wholesale international bandwidth is much pricier than Europe's; because unlike Europe, the Asian countries are interlinked only through the submarine cables. Therefore, broadband is also unaffordable across developing Asia.

LIRNEasia, a Colombo-based regulation and policy research outfit, first detected this weakness in Asia's broadband supply chain in 2012. It has suggested the deployment of cross-border terrestrial optical fiber along the Asian Highway to fix the market.

Asian Highway is a 143,000-kilometre road communication network that spans from Japan to Turkey, crisscrossing 32 countries including Bangladesh, and terminates in Europe (See the map). The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) fosters this transcontinental transport infrastructure initiative.

Highways are the preferred right-of-way to deploy optical fiber transmission backbone. Therefore, fiber along the Asian Highway will be de facto terrestrial backup of Asia's undersea telecoms networks. It will interlink Asian economies across their borders and connect the continent with Europe. It will make wholesale international bandwidth and digital services cheaper. As a result, broadband will become affordable in developing Asia.

After analysing LIRNEasia's argument, ESCAP undertook the "Asia-Pacific Information Superhighway (AP-IS)" initiative in 2014. Now, the UN body wants to amend the Asian Highway agreement and incorporate the provision of deploying optical fiber along with it.

As a member of the Asian Highway, Bangladesh should take the leading role at this juncture. Once AP-IS is materialised, Bangladesh will no longer be at other country's mercy for international bandwidth. It will slash the international bandwidth costs, which will make broadband as affordable as mobile phone calls.

Secretary to the ICT Division of Bangladesh's Ministry of ICT and Telecommunication forwarded an amendment to the authorities on October 21, 2015. It should be expeditiously submitted to ESCAP. This rare opportunity for Bangladesh to drive the decolonisation of Asia's internet should not be wasted.

Toufique Imrose Khalidi
Editor-in-Chief and Publisher