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Internet retardation could affect county’s economy

TV commercials and paper advertisements related to broadband Internet services have done an extraordinary job in the country to lead us to believe all what we hear and see are true. But the reality is not so. Eventhough we the latest technology deployed some doubts may arise about the quality of broadband Internet service that has been provided in the country.

Sri Lanka is believed to have the latest technology in the South Asian region where telecommunication is concerned. From wired to wires ADSL to HSPA superior technologies have been brought down for the purpose of providing broadband Internet to the nation. We Sri Lankans are lucky enough to have the wireless broadband technologies such as WiMAX and HSPA very early while others in the region have not.


Sri Lankans waste valuable time in front of computers due to slow broadband Internet speeds.

Sophisticated methods and technologies capable of providing connectivity to isolated rural areas have been here for quite a long time. Thus excuses do not seem to work; one could not justify the situation by accusing lack of infrastructure facilities as the reason for slow Internet services in the country.

Therefore let us keep infrastructure problem aside for the time being. Let us consider the existing broadband Internet service quality to identify its impact on the national economy.

Benefits

There is no doubt that we need Internet in Sri Lanka than ever before. The vast amount of benefits it could deliver towards the development of the economy is enormous.

Not only the economic benefits but the other contributions it offer to the social development are unmatched. In simple terms if Internet could be provided cost effectively to all citizens it would certainly help to increase country’s total productivity significantly in the time to come.

The Government could save large sum of state funds spent on citizen’s services if e-Government is initiated. This allows people to transact with the Government institutes over the Internet rather than visiting them in person. This would enhance the living standards of every individual in the country.

In addition to the enhanced efficiency gained this would save considerable amount fuel we use for the purpose of transportation. On the other hand it is environment friendly too.

The rural community could be added to the country’s mainstream through initiatives like e-commerce and BPO if we could provide Internet at affordable price. But none of these would become possible if we deliberately ignore the duties to our country. First and foremost we must identify the malaises in broadband Internet.

Then swift action must be taken to rectify them by allowing the benefits of Internet to reach every level in the society. In this respect identifying the present scenarios in broadband sector and the problems would be useful in all aspects.

As at present our broadband market is consisted of five operators including four on wireless and one wired over ADSL. Satellite broadband Internet is not commercially available for the use of domestic user as yet.

Technologies

These operators are providing a wide range of speeds from 512kbps to 4Mbps using different technologies. Though we have speeds like 4Mbps achieving at least one third of this speed would be a miracle. The situation becomes critical when accessing international sites in foreign domains.

When it comes to bandwidth especially in wireless broadband the situation is alarming. In addition to inadequate allocation of bandwidth the available bandwidth varies widely beyond the acceptable level due to Inconsistency in service. Regardless of operators all unlimited broadband Internet services are identical in quality. Volume based services with upper level caps performs slightly better.

All in all the entire Internet picture in the country looks unhealthily. The low volume restrictions implemented, for instance starting from 1GB and above, have adverse impact on user’s freedom of browsing and using.

While companies in other parts of the world provide nearly unlimited storage capacities for email, Sri Lankan broadband operators unreasonably charge for the capacity above 10MB. The question is from where and which authority would these operators have obtained permission to allocate such small capacity storage for email boxes.

Since broadband operates in a policy vacuum no standard were ever published to protect the users. Ad-hock basis broadband Internet services tailor made to suit the requirements of operators have totally forgotten the requirements of Internet user in the country.

Outcome

The outcome would be more serious than we ever imagined. The intended benefits of Internet to the country and its economy is about to disappear over the horizon.

In other countries Governments and authorities have identified the role of Internet and strategically intervened and implemented rules and regulations for the benefit of the IT industry.

Recently in the United States FCC has revised their broadband standard from 256kbps to 768kbps and given new definitions. Despite the world trend in data communication, in Sri Lanka services like 512kbps are still offered in the market with the incorporation of phrases like “high speed” to grab users.

If one needs to have fair quality broadband service in Sri Lanka they have no other option other than switching over to expensive wireless services. But the ordinary people cannot afford to have these services and again they incline towards poor quality service which is available in the market with comparatively low price tags.

Higher the quality greater the amount the subscriber pays for the service. However P2P users do not seem to be affected by the poor speeds as it uses a different technique while downloading files.

In all aspects high speed Internet would be regarded as a catalyst for IT. For the IT development reliable cost effective high speed Internet service in the country is an essential. Therefore the Government should take immediate steps to rectify the malaises in the Internet services.

Strategy

A very unique strategy is what we needed to increase the public exposure and make them aware about the benefits of IT in their lives. Apart from this the Internet subscriber empowerment mechanism program must be introduced with the immediate effect to safeguard consumer rights.

A proper integration of such mechanism would demand operators to cater their customers with better service quality in the future.

Recently country’s International backbone capacity was expanded to 3.7Gbps from 90Mbps. In addition to this another operator has joined the FLAG (Fiber link around the globe) undersea fiber optic cable network adding an extraordinary connectivity to Sri Lanka’s International backbone capacity. However adding capacity in the international segments has failed to do any good to the country’s broadband subscribers effectively.

Demands

In this context Internet quality in the country must be enhanced to meet the demands of growing applications.

Usage volumes, bottlenecks and other speed limitations implemented to restrict the user must be taken off. This would assure the growth of Internet penetration in the country thereby allowing more people to have access to the information super highway at faster speeds yet affordably. High speed broadband Internet is the catalyst for economy and IT development.

If we don’t rectify this situation by identifying the importance of affordable high speed broadband we would not be able to achieve our economic targets in this competitive world. Failure in taking action could lead the Internet retardation which would impact badly on country’s economy in the near future.

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