Bangladesh is considered one of the largest internet markets in Asia with more than 100 million online users. Technology companies have established the zero-rating deals – partnerships with telecom operators and Internet service providers to make their services free of charge to users, according to Tech Crunch. Telecom operators bankroll the cost of data consumed by users.
However, on July 16, 2020, the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) issued a letter to mobile operators and Internet service providers asking them to stop providing free social media services to customers. A directive to be implemented immediately. “The above mentioned subject would be applicable from July 15, 2020, onwards”, states the order translated by Torsha Sarkar of the Centre for Internet and Society. According to BTRC, some people are benefiting from free access to social media services for carrying out criminal activities through social media platforms. Following the BTRC order, Facebook’s Free Basics will no longer be active in Bangladesh.
Aiming for a digital Bangladesh, Internet.org was launched in 2015. In 2016, Alliance for Affordable Internet published a report entitled “Realizing Affordable Internet in Bangladesh”. The report states that around 140 million were unconnected.
In Bangladesh, people can still be connected to Facebook despite having zero Internet balance. Bangladesh’s second-largest telecom operator, Robi Axiata Limited, provides this service. On the other hand, people in Bangladesh can still have access to the internet due to an emergency. They only have to dial *875# for emergency internet, a service provided by Bangladesh’s third largest telecom operator Banglalink. In addition, Grameenphone, the largest telecom provider allows users to access Facebook and Prothom-Alo through Easy Net service.
There are many offers for zero cost access to the internet such as Internet.org, Facebook Zero, Twitter Access, Wikipedia Zero, and Google Free Zone.
According to Access Now “Policy Brief: Access’ position on zero-rating scheme”, Zero-rating programmes do not offer access to the full internet but only selected internet services and applications. Zero-rating services can facilitate surveillance as data only flows through limited and identifiable channels. However, free access to the internet can undermine competition and innovation of telecom operators.
In 2017, Bangladesh created a licensing regime for online media and passed a Digital Security Act in 2018. In June 2019, Asia internet coalition – Facebook, Google, Amazon, LinkedIn, Twitter, Yahoo – said that Bangladesh’s Digital Security Bill (BDSA) creates several obstacles for Internet use. BTRC’s decision will have an impact on users’ rights to access internet in Bangladesh.