Monday, May 18, 2009

PTA ends PTCL’s Internet bandwidth monopoly…

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ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Telecom Authority (PTA) has decided to allow the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and DSL operators to buy Internet bandwidth from backbone operators other than the PTCL, thus settling a two-year row of the ISPs versus the PTCL.

The ISPs have been complaining to the PTA to amend their DSL Interconnect Agreement with the PTCL signed a few years ago in which the ISPs were restricted to procure Internet bandwidth from the PTCL only. Since the telecom deregulation in 2004, new operators have laid their infrastructure nationally as well as internationally and two years back, second alternate backbone provider, the TWA, started its services in the country.

But the DSL operators, who are the major purchaser of Internet bandwidth, were restrained by their unilateral agreement with the PTCL not to buy bandwidth from any operator other than the PTCL. The ISPs have been complaining to the PTA time and again against this monopolistic and anti-competitive restriction that did not allow them to have redundancy and benefit of competitive prices from alternate operator.

The PTA, after a series of negotiations, has finally issued the minutes of the meeting held between the ISPAK (Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan) and the PTCL on 5th May 2009 in which it was decided that the ISPs will be free to buy Internet bandwidth from third party operators and would be allowed to link their optical fibre cable to one PTCL exchange per city. The PTA has also decided that the PTCL will not increase charges of its leased circuits used by the DSL operators for inter-exchange bandwidth only for the next year.

The PTA has reserved a judgment on settling the DSL wholesale and retail prices of the PTCL and committed to resolve this long outstanding issue within a month. Pakistan has come a long way from the early days of Internet in 1990s with only one submarine cable connecting the country with rest of the world. The country today has three submarine cables linking Karachi with Southeast Asia, Europe and North America named as SWM3, SMW4 and TWA, first two with the PTCL and the third with a private operator. The total Internet bandwidth to the country stands at around 18 gigabytes, growing at around 45% every year for the last three years.

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