Satellite, submarine cable business may open to private sector

Muhammad Zahidul Islam….

The government is set to open up the satellite and undersea submarine cable business to the private sector as it looks to expand the capacity in preparation for a Digital Bangladesh.

At present, two separate state-run companies — Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Limited (BSCCL) and Bangladesh Communication Satellite Company Limited — run the undersea cable and cosmos communication business.

Two separate policies are now being formulated to this end, Posts and Telecommunication Minister Mustafa Jabbar told The Daily Star recently.

The draft policy for the satellite business has already been finalised and forwarded to the finance ministry for approval. Once the approval comes through and some formalities are completed, the policy will be passed, he said.

Bangabandhu-1, the country’s first communication satellite, was launched in May last year at a cost of Tk 2,765.66 crore, allowing Bangladesh to enter the elite space club of 57 nations which have sent satellites into the orbit. The government took the first initiative to launch the satellite for Bangladesh and now it is up to the private sector to monetise it, Jabbar said.

“Currently Bangabandhu-1 is not bringing in any money but it gave the country huge prestige. Around the globe you will find that private entities are leading this industry and the government is only facilitating them.”

Of the 31 TV channels in Bangladesh, 10 – state-run BTV World, Sangsad Bangladesh Television and BTV Chattogram and private channels Somoy TV, DBC News, Independent TV, NTV, Ekattor TV, Bijoy TV and Boishakhi TV — are airing programmes using the satellite.

BSCCL has two undersea cable connections — SEA-ME-WE 4 and SEA-ME-WE 5 — and is in the process of acquiring another in preparation of the spike in bandwidth consumption soon.

Bangladesh’s current consumption is about 1.2 terabytes per second (TBPS), of which 670 gigabits per second are supplied by BSCCL and the rest is imported from India.

The policymakers are estimating the country’s total bandwidth requirement will be more than 6 TBPS by 2023 and BSCCL’s current capacity is less than 3 TBPS.

So, the country needs to develop channels to get more bandwidth before that, said officials who are working on the matter. BSCCL is now evaluating two separate proposals received from two Singapore-based companies — SingTel and SigMar — to establish connection for the country’s third undersea cable.

But the government is keen on letting the private sector have a share of the pie, Jabbar said.“In the coming days communication channels will play a vital role and that’s why we are taking preparations,” he added.

As of May, there are 9.45 crore active internet connections in the country and this number will soar once the country is properly on the path to digitalisation.

Several submarine cable connections will be required then to run digital services smoothly, said industry experts.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commi-ssion had earlier taken an initiative to open up the submarine cable business to the private sector and even received an application. But in the end nothing came out of it.

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