The telecom regulator has taken a move to connect Bangladesh with two more submarine cables through private sector initiative within one and a half years as internet-based services are often disrupted with the country's lone undersea cable.
Entrepreneurs in the sector have long been demanding such backups with experts suggesting that the regulator should also bring terrestrial connection from neighbouring countries by the time.
Bangladesh was linked with a submarine cable in 2006 at a cost of $35.1 million. The SMW-4 cable has a capacity to handle 120 Gb bandwidth, of which the country now subscribes to 24.12 Gb.
Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Ltd handles the lone undersea cable from Cox's Bazar to Dhaka. The country uses 23 percent of its capacity domestically.
The Bangladesh Telecomm-unication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) in a draft guideline says: "In order to ensure diversity, uninterrupted telecom services and capacity building in international connectivity, two submarine cable licences will be awarded, in addition to the existing one."
Bangladeshi companies or joint venture ones with local partners, or local companies with foreign partners having considerable experience in submarine cable systems and services will be eligible for licences to establish, maintain and operate such system.
"Foreign entities (with Bangladeshi partners) must be registered with the respective Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms or equivalent as well as with the chamber of commerce and industries concerned or equivalent in their countries," according to the draft guideline.
Foreign stake is limited to maximum 40 percent. The overseas partner will invest in foreign currency directly equal to its percentage of ownership and no bank loan from any Bangladeshi financial institutions can be raised for the foreign part of the investment.
The BTRC has sought stakeholders' views to finalise the draft within this month. The stakeholders can put forward their opinions at BTRC website until December 14. The regulator is expected to go for licence awarding procedure by early next year, said BTRC officials.
The cables will be operational and ready for customer service within 18 months from the date of awarding licences.
Domestic Cable Landing Station (DCLS) will be located in the coastal belt of general area -- Khulna or Patuakhali or Barisal or Chittagong -- and the routes of the proposed submarine cables may be wide apart from the SEA-ME-WE-4 branch line, as far as possible.
In line with the licensing provision, DCLS will not be located in the same place. The regulator in consultation with the licensees will decide the exact location of the DCLS after evaluating the marine survey report and other essentials.
Welcoming the move, Habibullah N Karim, president of Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, however said this move should have been taken much earlier.
The country needs multiple cable connections with the upward trend of IT-based business, he said. "Bangladesh should also link it with terrestrial connection of neighbouring countries."
"We should open the cable market to ensure faster internet networks," Karim said.
In Bangladesh six million people are now using internet and the internet penetration rate is four percent, according to government data. But high-speed broadband service is yet to flourish because of costly bandwidth.
Akhtaruzzaman Manju, president of Internet Service Providers' Association of Bangladesh, said the move will help users get uninterrupted internet services.
However he suggests upgrading the existing cable and bringing down the bandwidth price to less than Tk 10,000 from existing Tk 18,000 per Mbps (megabits per second).