Starting in the early 1990s, Bangladesh had dialup access to e-mail using the Bulletin Board Systems (BBSs) of a few local providers, but the number of users did not total more than 500. Users were charged by the kilobyte and email was transferred from the BBS service providers to the rest of the world by international dialup using UUCP.
In June 1996 the first VSAT base data circuit in the country was commissioned and the Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) granted licenses to two Internet Service Providers (ISPs). In subsequent years more liberal government policies led to a rapid expansion of the industry, resulting in over 180 registered ISP’s by 2005. ISPs are currently regulated by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) through the Bangladesh Telecommunications Act.
In May 2006 Bangladesh inaugurated new submarine optic fiber connectivity as part of the 16 country consortium SEA-ME-WE 4 project. The landing station is in Cox’s Bazar, the southern city near the Bay of Bengal. In July 2008 the Submarine Cable Project was transformed into the company Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Limited (BSCCL), which is now responsible for all services related to the submarine cable.
Between June and August 2012 international Internet service in Bangladesh was slowed following a cable cut on the eastern leg of the SEA-ME-WE 4 optical fiber cable and the fact that Bangladesh does not have an alternative submarine cable or other high-speed international connections. In 2014 the new SEA-ME-WE 5 cable is expected to provide an alternative operating at 100 Gbit/s, roughly 10 times faster than the current connection.
The Internet’s speed in Bangladesh is not among the fastest in the world but it has significantly developed in the recent past. As of April 2014, Bangladesh ranked 138th out of 190 countries on the Household Download Index by Net Index.
Internet connectivity with acceptable quality and reliability is generally quite expensive in Bangladesh. Since connecting to the SEA-ME-WE 4 cable in 2006, the country has seen Internet bandwidth prices drop significantly. In 2008, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) slashed wholesale Internet bandwidth prices drastically, from BDT 80,000 (approximately US$1,125) per Mbit/s to BDT 18,000 (approximately US$250) per Mbit/s. In 2009, after complaints that retail prices were still too high for slow, unreliable connections, the BTRC indicated that they were going to begin monitoring ISPs to ensure that retail prices reflected the reduced wholesale prices.
The government sees information and communication technologies (ICTs) as a key driver of socioeconomic development. This is reflected in the government’s “Digital Bangladesh” plan as well as the National Information and Communication Technology Policy. Bangladesh is slowly moving up in the world-wide ICT rankings, rising from 130th in 2009 to 113th in 2012 in the “networked readiness index”. But, while its ITC ranking has improved, Bangladesh still lags behind other low-income countries of its stature. Progress is limited due to deficiencies in the regulatory framework and infrastructure development.
All ISPs and equivalent service providers in Bangladesh exchange traffic via two systems, the National Internet Exchange (NIX) and International Internet Gateways (IIGs). The IIGs provide global Internet connectivity, while all domestic Internet traffic is routed via the NIX to minimize usage of international bandwidth. The NIX consists of two exchange points known as the Bangladesh Internet Exchange (BDIX) established in August 2004 and operated by the Sustainable Development Networking Program and the Peering Society of Bangladesh and the Bangladesh Society of Internet Exchange (BSIX) established in May 2004.
There are concerns that, with a limited number of NIX operators, only two IIG operators, and with BSCCL holding a monopoly as the only operator of the SEA-ME-WE fiber optic cables, limited competition will keep the cost of raw bandwidth high.