EDITORIAL: Expensive internet

Government must bear in mind that free flow of information is the cornerstone of democracy

Of the many promises the two communist parties — CPN-UML and CPN-Maoist Centre — made during the election campaigns, one was making information and communication technology easily accessible and affordable. The two parties won the elections on the “stability for prosperity” plank. After their unity, the two parties are now known as Nepal Communist Party (NCP), which is governing the country with the strongest mandate ever, enjoying a two-thirds majority in Parliament. This did raise hopes among the Nepali people who were convinced that the country’s progress was largely hindered by political instability. But in the last five months, the government has opened floodgates of criticism for its various decisions. And raising the tax on internet and phone calls is one of such decisions it has taken, much to the chagrin of people. The ruling party seems to have forgotten the promise it had made.

Through the budget for the fiscal year 2018-19, the government announced that it would impose 13 per cent TSC on internet service providers (ISPs) and raise TSC for telecom service providers by two percentage points to 13 per cent. It is a given fact that not all promises made during the elections are fulfilled by parties after they come to power; but it is also a fact that people have some expectations that a government elected by them would work in their interest. People have not forgotten the pledges by the leaders of the ruling party that they would make Wi-Fi free. People hence have taken to social media networks to remind the government of the promises that were made. By increasing tariffs, the government has also dumped the National Broadband Policy 2014, which was formulated with an aim to develop high-speed internet services at an affordable cost, into the dustbin. At this point, the decision to increase tariff seems to have stemmed from the government’s intention to raise revenue. That “people are increasingly using over-the-top services for voice calls over traditional phone calls and messaging, thereby reducing the revenue from the telecommunication sector” is a flimsy argument.

Across the world, there is a huge competition in ICT today, due to which services are getting cheaper. But in Nepal, we are moving in the opposite direction. Officials say imposing TSC on internet service does not necessarily require Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to increase internet fees. But the ISPs have. Where is the monitoring then? Making internet expensive can have profound consequences. It can push citizens away from the reach of information. Any effort to curtail the flow of information is against democratic practices. The Internet is a repository of information; its prudent use can have a transformative impact on the lives of the people who can contribute to the development of the national economy. Unrestricted flow of information helps people stay abreast of happenings, including government activities, and they can rightly point out when they feel elected officials are running away from their duties. The government must bear in mind that the free flow of information is the cornerstone of democracy and that people should not be deprived of their right to communicate and remain informed.

Erratic contractor

An under-construction bridge over the Tamor River in Panchthar district is in limbo after the contractor and its staffers fled from the construction site. The contract was awarded to Chitwan-based Swochhanda Construction Company to build the bridge at the cost of Rs 170 million seven years ago. The bridge was supposed to be built within four years from the date of signing the contract. Even after the contract deadline was extended time and again, the bridge has remained half-complete.

The 45-km long road connecting Phidim, the district headquarters of Panchthar, and Myanglung, the district headquarters of Tehrathum, has not come into full operation due to the incomplete bridge over the river. Locals have accused the Department of Roads of not taking any legal action against the contractor who also has dues of over Rs two million to the staffers, raw material suppliers and local hotels. The erratic contractor should be penalised in accordance with law for not completing the work on time. Such a huge amount of money allocated by the government has been wasted due to the contractor’s sheer negligence. Most government contracts are not finished within the deadline due to the high-level political connection of contractors.