Nepal's Internet Shake-Up: Govt Tackles Bandwidth Imports, ISP Regulations ➤

Nepal’s Internet Shake-Up: Govt Tackles Bandwidth Imports, ISP Regulations

Government Moves to Tighten Grip on Internet Service Providers and International Bandwidth Imports in Nepal

The Nepalese government is making moves to restrict internet service providers (ISPs) from importing international bandwidth, signaling a potential crackdown on the country’s internet landscape. In a bid to increase control over internet access and services, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology has established a committee tasked with implementing regulations that would prohibit ISPs from acting as bandwidth importers.

The committee, formed on the directives of Communications Minister Rekha Sharma, aims to explore the feasibility of establishing a centralized bandwidth platform or international internet gateway in Nepal. Sharma, who was recently reappointed for her second term, has hinted at introducing stringent policies for ISPs based on the committee’s recommendations.

While acknowledging the importance of international bandwidth management for Nepal, Sharma stated that the committee’s formation was necessitated by the lack of comprehensive studies on the matter. She assured that immediate actions would be taken based on the committee’s suggestions, and relevant bodies would be instructed to draft necessary laws to address remaining issues.

Currently, Nepal’s laws allow a single entity to obtain licenses for both network service providers and internet service providers, a practice that the study committee believes hinders fair market competition. The report also raises concerns over potential underreporting of international bandwidth purchase costs, resulting in lower government revenue.

“The absence of checks and balances between network service providers and internet service providers has led to a lack of uniformity in internet fees and service quality for consumers,” the study report states. “Therefore, to create a level playing field for fair competition among ISPs, it is necessary to immediately prohibit a single entity from holding both network service provider and internet service provider roles.”

Nepal currently has 23 companies licensed to import international internet bandwidth as network service providers. However, due to varying bandwidth importation volumes, the price per Mbps differs among providers. The report also notes a lack of assurance in maintaining minimum service quality standards between high-volume and low-volume bandwidth importers.

“In line with the principle of economies of scale, it is necessary to consult stakeholders and make appropriate decisions regarding arrangements such as allowing a minimum of 500 Gbps bandwidth import, among others, to reduce international bandwidth costs, minimize foreign currency outflows from Nepal, and ensure internet service quality,” the report further recommends.

The committee has proposed additional measures, including mandating network service providers to purchase international bandwidth from at least two vendors, with no single vendor accounting for more than 60% of the total bandwidth imported. Additionally, bandwidth should be imported through different border entry points, and network service providers must obtain prior approval from the Nepal Telecommunications Authority before entering into bandwidth purchase agreements.

Recognizing the significance of content filtering, the committee has recommended further study on the topic in Nepal. It emphasizes the need for a mechanism to properly manage incoming network traffic, efficiently route data packets to other countries, and regulate data privacy, relevance, and cybersecurity. The report highlights the necessity for policy, legal, and structural arrangements to establish such a system, suggesting it should be under the purview of the Government of Nepal to safeguard citizens’ privacy.

The committee’s report calls for a comprehensive study on the framework, establishment, operation modalities, and policy, legal, and structural arrangements for an international internet management system in Nepal to make timely and appropriate provisions.

As the government moves forward with its plans, concerns arise over potential internet freedom restrictions and the impact on Nepal’s digital landscape.