Bangladesh Submarine Cable Company Ltd (BSCCL) is getting its longstanding dues amounting to Tk 63.9 million from Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), a state-run mobile network provider of India, this month.
BSNL has not made any payment to BSCCL since September 2018 against its internet bandwidth import from Bangladesh. The company also deferred payments to BSCCL on several occasions.
For nearly a year, BSNL has been struggling to make payments to its staff and vendors, many of whom have sought Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention to recover their dues, according to Indian media reports.
"At last, BSNL agreed to pay its dues to BSCCL this month," BSCCL managing director Mashiur Rahman told The Financial Express (FE).
The Indian company cited the Covid-19 pandemic as the reason behind the deferral of payment, Mr Rahman noted.
"We will get the full payment later this month from BSNL as per its promise," he said, adding that BSCCL will take strong measures if the Indian company fails to keep its promise.
In June 2015, BSNL signed an agreement to import 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) bandwidth for the north-eastern Indian state of Tripura through the Akhaura-Agartala point.
BSCCL began exporting bandwidth to BSNL on February 8, 2016, and continued until February 7, 2020.
In November 2019, BSNL informed BSCCL that it would no longer import bandwidth because of dearth of revenue despite huge demand for internet services in the north-eastern Indian states - Tripura, Meghalaya and Assam.
BSNL ultimately scrapped its deal with BSCCL on February 7, 2020, saying that it can no longer afford to import internet bandwidth from Bangladesh due to lack of revenue, thus ending a four-year partnership.
It is learnt that most Indian mobile network providers source bandwidth in remote areas from the country's heartland.
However, due to the vast distances covered in hills that the bandwidth must travel, internet service level in those areas tends to be unsatisfactory.
The situation prompted Indian companies like BSNL to import bandwidth from Bangladesh to cater to the areas closer to the border.
BSCCL earned Tk 96 million in the first year of the agreement, with prices set at US$10 per Mbps. Later, the price was revised twice and brought down to $6.0 per Mbps.
When the deal was initially inked, BSNL hoped to increase its internet bandwidth import up to 100 Gbps within a year, according to BSCCL officials.
However, the Indian company could never consume even 10 Gbps bandwidth despite huge demand in Tripura. Its consumption never exceeded 8.0 Gbps.
Under the arrangement, BSCCL received Tk 54.6 million annually. But the value seems rather insignificant, considering the fact that local companies here contribute around Tk 500 million in revenue to the state entity.
BSCCL has long been holding talks with private companies of the neighbouring country. However, the discussions are yet to move towards signing formal agreements due to various bottlenecks.
Currently, BSCCL supplies about 1,100 Gbps of bandwidth to the local market, while another 500 Gbps bandwidth is imported from India through Benapole.
The state-owned firm has two existing undersea cable connections - SEA-ME-WE-4 and SEA-ME-WE-5 - with a combined capacity of 2,600 Gbps. The company has planned to install another (third) cable connection to meet the country's growing internet demand.
BSCCL is set to export 600 Gbps bandwidth worth $3.6 million to Saudi Telecom.
The capacity will be transferred from the western part of the core cable of the SMW-5 submarine connection to Yanbu in Saudi Arabia through Marseille in France, the BSCCL MD told the FE.
Mr Mashiur said an agreement in this regard will be signed in March.
The country's lone submarine cable company is also in talks with Nepal Telecom to export about 100 Gbps bandwidth to that country, according to BSCCL.