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                     Broadband Internet in Sri Lanka


Why High Speed Internet?

Broadband Internet has become the most revolutionized telecommunication tool of this century. The un matched benefits that it provides to economies, as well as to societies, may be the reason this communication tool has became so popular all over the world. People find it is easy and convenient to do their day to day tasks over the broadband Internet, rather than using other methods.  The speed and the cost effectiveness in broadband could be regarded as the driving force which attracted more people in to the stream all over the world. Far East, namely South Korea, was the birth place of modern broadband Internet. Their success in both economic and social welfare has shown the world how high speed Internet could change any country or economy; should broadband be adopted.

Since South Korea’s success, the rest of the world, particularly the western countries, have identified the importance of broadband; consequently, they too have benefited. Our neighboring countries, India and Pakistan, have embarked aggressively on high speed Internet by setting up broadband goals for the year 2010. The socio-economic revolution created by the telephone in 20th century, is about to re-create by the predominant broadband in this century. The richness of the content that carries over the broadband Internet is many times higher than any simple voice service could deliver. As a matter of opinion, broadband could dramatically change the way in which we work, entertain, live and learn (WELL). The benefits are enormous, not only to the society, but also to the economy as well. Therefore, to unleash the powers of high speed Internet and to take the full advantage of this modern technology, we must act now without delay.

Proper placement of broadband services could bring number of benefits to our society. But more than five years have passed since the introduction of broadband in our country and still we haven’t been able to bring the benefits that were expected. Further delaying the process could cause market deterioration, which might impact negatively on the growth of broadband Internet in the country. To avoid such a situation and to accelerate the growth of broadband, we must implement a national policy for broadband at the earliest possible time. Then the policy itself should be capable of identifying the exact requirements that are needed for the development of broadband in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Module

When considering the past five years, the Sri Lankan broadband market has failed to secure its place like the other countries have done. As a nation we have not recognized the latent powers of broadband so far. The authorities have completely neglected it, so as a result, it went unnoticed. No national program was available for broadband in the country except commercially oriented programs conducted by the service providers in the interest of selling their products. The missing link here is the government’s presence which is compulsory and important to the growth of broadband. It is vital to understand why any government should get involved in broadband business. Among many features of broadband, socio-economic empowerment alone, would contribute many benefits to the society. This contribution pushes the total productivity in to a higher level, causing GDP to grow rapidly. This GDP growth could be a good enough reason for governments all over the world to take control and promote broadband in their respective countries. If broadband is capable of doing such wonders in changing national GDP, what else do we need?

Without having high speed Internet, the richness of information technology cannot be delivered to the society in the way it should. Therefore, the speed is very important in data transferring and contributing significantly to the lives of our community. Since high speed broadband has been used to create a virtual reality environment over the online applications, lower speeds are unable to complete with the requirements of real time services like on-line medical consultancy and video conferencing. The well-being of the citizens is vital for the development of any country. Therefore, the way people work, live and learn in this country could drastically change with onset of high speed broadband Internet. What most people do not know is that the high speed broadband Internet is capable of doing their routine tasks that they normally do on regular internet with greater time and cost efficiency. Point- to- point traveling could be reduced by 50%, if broadband Internet is used. It is cheaper as it saves time and fuel; it is friendly on the environment, which is important considering the regularly mentioned concept of Global Warming. Similarly, one could find another job opportunity where he or she could do it over the Internet by staying at home. This modern way of working over the Internet is known as “teleworking”. Payment of utility bills such as telephone and electricity could be made over the Internet by not visiting the billing offices. Similarly, visits to the banks, government offices or visits to any other offices where public services are conducted could be eliminated or reduced as these services could be easily accessed over the broadband Internet with lightning fast.

But how could we deliver these benefits to our people? We could offer the benefits successfully to our society through the direct intervention of the government, by implementing a national policy for broadband Internet. Due to the absence of state mechanism in the Sri Lankan broadband sector, we have already lost many economic goals that we should have achieved in the past.

People are unaware about its benefits and no priority was given nationally to promote broadband in the country. Broadband Integration in countries’ administration systems cannot be done without the help of the government. Government could start its initial role by providing most of its citizen services over the Internet.  Failures or delays could cause our nation to miss this great opportunity, and it could be a great injustice to all Sri Lankans.

The present broadband market in Sri Lanka is not a promising one. The way it behaves and flows presently, will never achieve the socio-economic goals that are expected of it. Access charges remains high, despite the world trend of: “declining price against increasing speeds”. ADSL access charges were never reduced and bandwidth has never increased for the last five years. It is interesting to note during this period, International backbone charges declined by over 75% in the world.  In this regard, we are about to break another negative world record. Volume based ADSL services were provided without offering real time usage meter facilities to its customers. The web based metering service provided is unreliable and intermittent. Sometimes these online counters become unavailable and consume a considerable time to get updated. This is very inconvenient to the users. It is also interesting to note how low-speed Internet services were provided under the guise of “high- speed” broadband.

Nominal ADSL broadband services were offered by using the phrase “high speed Internet” for the last five years. The truth is a broadband service could not be branded as “high speed Internet” if the operator was not providing the stated quality or the speed. Having a broader bandwidth is utterly useless without the incorporation of high speed Internet. Metaphorically, it’s just like using a highway to ride bullock carts.  Due to the rich content of the Internet, it is vital to have a fast service at user’s end because user requirements have shifted from simple email to high quality real time home applications which require fast services. To watch full motion, good quality streamed video or to run live video conferences, one must have at least a 700kbps fast Internet service at his end. With 50-60kbps ADSL (day time) you are restricted and feel like using a dialup service. At these speeds, sending plain text emails and browsing the Internet are the things that you could do. Volume based packages are much better, but again, the user is restricted with 1GB data capacity, which is insufficient.

But the wireless operator, Dialog has managed to change the broadband picture in the country. Dialog Telekom has revolutionized the broadband market by providing real high speed Internet services over 1Mbps using wireless technology. Though the price is very high, Sri Lankans now have the opportunity of experiencing “real fast” broadband services over the WiMAX and HSPA technology due to new market entrants. Unfortunately, the highly marked prices continues to keep the ordinary users away from accessing the high speed wireless broadband Internet.

There is no doubt that should we implement the right policy for high speed broadband Internet, we could stand as a nation proudly, and eventually not be seen as a less develop country. Operators could also benefit with the high demand of broadband Internet requirements as many more people would need it, thus making them money. It is evident that the broadband policy will create favorable conditions to all concerns, citizens, operators and the government.

In conclusion, let us as a nation welcome the benefits of broadband to our lives, and wait in anticipation until we have come up with real high speed broadband Internet which all citizens can afford. Personally, I’m most confident that we could change our national economy with the integration of broadband, by enhancing the living standards of our people, where we Sri Lankans could stand on our own feet as a proud nation in Asia.

Sanath Siriwardena 2009

More details are available at Speed Test web page.

Updated February 2009