Consumers bear the brunt of the fight between internet companies and electric utilities

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As the Nepal Electricity Authority began cutting the Internet and cable TV wires from its electricity poles on Saturday, Sugat Ratna Kansakar, the former head of Nepal Telecom, was quick to respond.

“… under any circumstances, especially when there is a problem regarding transactions between two organizations, consumer services should not be shut down,” Kansakar wrote. on Twitter. “It is a universal law because the Internet has become an essential service all over the world.

The electric utility, in a dispute over unpaid Internet service provider (ISP) charges, on Saturday shut down internet wires and cables in nearly a dozen locations across the country . The Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) argument is that the ISPs used the utility poles but did not pay the rental fees.

The NEA had warned service providers to “face the consequences” from Saturday if they did not pay rental fees for using its poles. The service providers ignored the warning.

Consumers were the ultimate victims.

Whether Nepalese ISPs have been up to the task when it comes to providing services to consumers has always been debatable, but a state agency troubling consumers over its inability to ensure that Entities align raised new debates.

Consumers and consumer rights activists argue that the NEA has completely failed in its duty in punishing citizens for not committing any crime.

Consumer rights activists have said that neither the government nor any other organization has the right to deprive consumers of services for even a minute, and when services listed as “essential” are affected, it constitutes a crime.

Using the right under the Operation of Essential Services Act 1957, the government listed on May 28 the Internet as an essential service. According to the law, essential services should not be interrupted or prohibited under any circumstances and if someone does, the law provides for penalties.

“Interrupting essential service is a crime,” said Bishnu Prasad Timilsina, general secretary of the Consumer Rights Forum, Nepal. “The inability of the electricity board to collect payments from ISPs on time and ISPs who do not pay their rental fees on time should not cause problems for consumers. “

According to him, the electric authority should have taken action one by one against the failing Internet and cable service providers.

“Cutting the wires to punish service providers and cause suffering to consumers is not only ineffectiveness on the part of government agencies, but also a crime,” said Timilsina.

Most Nepalese ISPs use the utility poles to route their cables to subscribers. To use the NEA poles, ISPs pay a rental fee.

By issuing a notice on September 14, the NEA warned internet, telephone and cable TV companies using its utility poles to clear unpaid rental charges or their wires would be removed from October 1.

The electric utility said some internet service providers, phone companies and cable TV operators were using its infrastructure without permission while others failed to submit documents providing details of contact details, map and the distance from the global positioning system.

The authority had said it would remove the optical fibers and other installed equipment without the agreement of the service providers and to avoid this they would have to make the payments.

No one, however, paid any attention to it.

Then suddenly the NEA kicked in on Saturday.

The Federation of Computer Associations of Nepal on Sunday reacted, condemning the act of the electricity company.

The federation said internet wires were cut in Bharatpur, Butwal, Kathmandu, Biratnagar, Dharan, Dhankuta, Taplejung, Khadichaur and Dhangadhi.

ISPs have said the price of broadband internet will increase by Rs 150 in urban areas and up to Rs 300 in rural areas if they meet the authority’s new rental fees.

According to the ISPs, the public electricity service had billed 205 Rs per pole until 2018-2019, then revised the price per km and per pole. With the revision, the rental fee was increased to Rs750 per month, more than 20 times the original rate, he said.

“We did not say that we would not make the payment,” said Sudhir Parajuli, president of the Association of Internet Service Providers of Nepal. “If we have to pay the price of the increased pole, the burden of the price increase will be passed on to the customer. “

The ISPs have applied for permission to increase the price of the Internet from the Nepal Telecommunications Authority.

But the telecommunications authority has said the price of the internet should not be increased and is in discussions with the government to resolve the issue, Parajuli said. “We are waiting for the word of the government.

“So we are not the culprit,” Parajuli told The Post.

As of mid-July of this year, 31.08 million Internet subscribers are using fixed wireless and mobile broadband Internet, according to the Nepal Telecommunications Authority report.

The telecommunications authority issued a statement on Saturday expressing deep concern over the relocation of the electricity authority.

Under the Telecommunications Act 1997, if anyone attempts to interrupt service, they will be subject to penalties.

Manoj Silwal, deputy general manager of the Nepal Electricity Authority, told the Post that Saturday’s decision was simply “symbolic” to hold service providers accountable for the consequences of non-payment of rental charges.

“Our intention is not to create problems for customers. We have selected a few small areas so that it doesn’t affect a lot of customers, ”Silwal told the Post. “We didn’t cut the threads today [Sunday]. We will not take this action for a few days as we believe the issue will be resolved soon. “

According to Silwal, the electricity authority was forced to take the drastic step because service providers did not respond to calls from the authority to adjust rental charges despite being given a year. about.

The electric utility issued a statement on Sunday saying it had implemented the new rent charges in mid-June 2018, which took effect on August 17, 2020.

The electric utility argued that it was not an overnight decision to cut the wires.

According to the new rent fee structure, service providers are expected to pay Rs14,000 [excluding tax] per kilometer for the use of 33 and 11 kV poles, annually.

To install optical fiber on a power distribution line of 33 or 11 kV or less, service providers have to pay Rs 9,000 and Rs 7,000 per km per year in metropolitan cities and municipalities / rural municipalities, respectively .

“Some service providers have been using our infrastructure without paying rent for five years and have also included these charges on the customer’s bill,” according to the utility company.

Santosh Paudel, director of the Nepal Telecommunications Authority, said his office had asked the line ministry to resolve the dispute.

“The electricity board did not come to discuss to find an amicable solution to the problem”, declared Paudel. “We could have already given permission to increase the price of service providers, but now is not the right time,” he said.

Last week, Kulman Ghising, managing director of the Nepal Electricity Authority, said the city’s beauty had been marred by poorly managed wires. If service providers use 96-core fiber-optic cables, a system that allows for common sharing, it will cost them less and help lower Internet costs, he said.

Each ISP has threaded its own wires on each pole and there is no sharing. According to him, 95% of the wires of the cables on the poles were not usable. Many old poles are about to fall due to the weight of the tangled wires.

“To avoid this kind of mess, new cable wires can be connected and shared by everyone, and the cost will go down as well,” he said.

Officials said making the internet expensive runs counter to the government’s initiative of Digital Nepal, a framework that was prepared in 2018 to make the internet accessible, accessible and affordable for all.

Consumer rights activists say consumers are hurting because no stakeholder is serious about it. While ISPs do not pay rental fees, the Nepal Telecommunications Authority does not want to increase the cost of the internet and the power company is failing to bring the affected party to the negotiating table, activists say.

“Internet service providers need to be aware of their responsibilities and pay rents on time as they charge customers,” said Timilsina. “ISPs are also responsible. They cannot challenge the opinion.

According to him, customers are taken for a ride.

“Nobody thinks about the rights of customers,” said Timilsina. “Their services are interrupted in the standoff between the two state-run public services.”



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