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Sunday, December 4, 2016


Controversy on social media apps' ban

M S Siddiqui

Bangladesh Telecom Regulatory Commission is considering ban on Internet based

communication technologies Over -The-TOP (OTT) services of communication. This is not a
surprise move only in Bangladesh. Human beings primarily don't accept anything new without
The OTT players do not require any business or technology affiliations with network operators
for providing such services.
OTT is the latest technology of communication popular for low cost communications meant for
all throughout the world. Telecom companies and government officials usually have negative
reaction; due to its dynamic nature it has been witnessing a continuously changing business and
technology environment for the past half century.
Government officials give many reasons for ordering these disruptions: safeguarding government
authority, reducing public dissidence, fighting terrorism, maintaining national security and
protecting local businesses are among others. The government is reasoning real or perceived
threats to stability, political power or local economic interests to justify disruptions.
Indeed, disruptions have become increasingly common as a response to domestic circumstances.
Bangladesh government officials have mentioned the "loss" of revenue of the government owned
T&T Board as a major reason although it has not been established for profit. It seems presenting
a pair of shoes for killing someone's cow.

A number of countries have blocked particular internet applications such as instant messaging
and Voice over Internet Protocol calling, turned off mobile telecommunications services or
disrupted the entire internet. Those actions separate people from their family, friends and
livelihoods, undermine economic growth and threaten social stability by interrupting economic
For example, Pakistan shut down mobile telecommunications services due to government's
concern about "Pakistan Day," the country's parade celebrating the 1940 Lahore agreement. All
mobile operators were ordered by national authorities to "shutdown mobile communications
within a 5km radius of the parade site." This move affected a major hospital, an airport, and
commercial areas near Islamabad.
India, Uganda, Algeria, and Iraq, that disrupted internet services in response to concerns over
students cheating on examinations during 2015 ". Considering the sensitive nature of the
examination for recruiting talented people, internet service providers were asked to shut down all
internet-based social media services from 9 am to 1 pm to prevent the misuse of mobile phones
during the examinations and security concerns."
According to a recent study by US-based think tank 'Brookings Institution', the total cost of such
social media blackouts in Bangladesh was estimated to be around $ 70 million, meaning that the
country lost around $ 2.76 million per day.
The study published in October 2016 by the 'Brookings Institution' says that there were total 81
disruptions in 19 countries from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016. This includes 22 in India, 22 in
Iraq, 8 in the non-ISIS controlled parts of Syria, 6 in Pakistan, 3 in Turkey and 2 each in
Bangladesh, Brazil, North Korea, Republic of the Congo, Uganda, and Vietnam, among other
The economic impact of temporary internet shutdowns was enormous according to the study on
81 short-term shutdowns in 19 countries over the past year regarding their duration, scope and
the population affected and their estimated impact on Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Based upon this analysis it is understood that between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016 these
shutdowns cost at least $2.4 billion in GDP globally. Economic losses include $968 million in
India, $465 million in Saudi Arabia, $320 million in Morocco, $209 million in Iraq, $116 million
in Brazil, $72 million in the Republic of the Congo, $69 million in Pakistan, $69 million in
Bangladesh, $48 million in Syria, $35 million in Turkey, and $20 million in Algeria, among
other places.
These are conservative estimates that consider only reductions in economic activity and do not
account for tax losses or drops in investor, business and consumer confidence. This is the total
economic impact of internet disruptions, both in terms of number of days and total GDP lost.
Overall, these disruptions cost those countries a total of at least $2.4 billion over the past year.
This estimation considered the disruptions of specific apps and services, mobile internet,
broadband internet, disruptions of specific apps and services for voice communications.

These disruptions lasted 753 days in total in those all countries. Bangladesh Telecommunication
Regulatory Commission imposed a 22-day ban on popular social media website and instant
messaging applications like Facebook, Viber and WhatsApp from November 18 to December 10
last year and also interrupted the internet for 25 days and lifted the ban three days later.
The authorities, on December 13, again blocked three other similar platforms Twitter, Skype
and Imo for three days. The national loss was $69,178,309. During the blackouts last year, it was
reported that the country's mobile operators were losing around Tk 15 million each day as their
revenue earnings from data services dropped by almost 30 percent. More surprisingly, as per the
BTRC figures, the total number of mobile internet users in the country dropped to 52.3 million
from October 2015 to November 2015.
It is important to point out that this analysis only looked at the economic impact on GDP. It
doesn't include estimates for lost tax revenues associated with blocked digital access, impact on
worker productivity, barriers to business expansion connected with these shutdowns, or the loss
of investors, consumers and business confidence resulting from such disruptions. As such, the
$2.4 billion figure of global loss is a conservative estimate that likely understates the actual
economic damage.
This is not a surprise proposal of BTRC in Bangladesh as government officials in many countries
around the world seem increasingly comfortable in blocking access to online services and apps,
despite the massive economic and social damage that internet service disruptions bring to their
The political leadership also sometimes conceives the idea of public security or political
disruption. They fail to realize the shutting down of access to popular services or to the whole
internet - even for a short period of time - interrupts economic growth, puts lives in jeopardy,
separates people from friends and family, and erodes confidence in the governments that take
such drastic and ill-advised steps.
A report by "The Future of Voice", the overall global telecom voice revenues (including T&T
type fixed subscriptions) will decline from $970.4 billion in 2012 to $799.6 billion by 2020, at a
CAGR of 2.4%. Also, as a result of VoIP by 2020 the telecom industry worldwide will see a loss
of revenues approximately worth $479billion which accounts for 6.9% of the total revenue from
Another report "Consumer OTT VoIP Outlook: 2013 to 2018"by UK base research organization
- Ovum, highlights that the OTT VoIP market is growing at a rate of 20 percent. Its application's
usage will reach 1.7 trillion minutes by 2018, which translates to $63 billion in lost revenue.
According to this study, as a result of increasing demand of online applications for messaging,
by the year 2016, telecom operators will stand to lose revenue worth $54 billion in messaging
Bangladesh authority is working to stop illegal VOIP but failed to stop for reason is unknown.
The technology of OTT has reduced the illegal use of VOIP throughout the world including

Bangladesh. The present Bangladesh government is promoting "Digital Bangladesh" and

fighting against corruption. OTT is an instrument to fight corruption and easy and low cost
communication services to the nation.
Any restriction on OTT will make the communication costly and partially isolate the nation from
world and promote illegal VOIP call service. (note: the honorable State Minister TaranaHalim
said, government has no plan to block OTT).
The writer is a legal economist