Inexpensive internet facilities will become all the more necessary in the future as the government is implementing the Digital Nepal Framework

The government's decision to slash internet charges in the country is not only welcome but long overdue. Only an inexpensive internet service will help the country go digital and promote e-commerce.

Nepal's internet facilities are ranked the most expensive in the south Asian region, based on annual GDP and current internet prices. Neighbouring India has the cheapest internet facilities in the region and also among the cheapest in the world. Time and again, both the consumers and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been pressing the government to reduce taxes on the facility so as to make the service more affordable and, hence, more accessible to the people. One may argue that Nepal's broadband internet packages are priced lower than in other countries of the region, but given our per capita income, they become unaffordable to many people. According to International Telecommunication Union's statistics, Nepali internet users are said to have spent 2.8 per cent of their per capita income to avail mobile internet service in 2020, while countries of the region, such as India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan, spent less than 1 per cent.

Statistics vary widely, but nearly 22.8 million of Nepal's 30 million people are now said to have internet access in Nepal. About 56 per cent of the internet users use mobile data, according to Nepal Telecommunications Authority. Nepal's internet users are growing exponentially, adding about 4.4 new consumers annually. The growing popularity of the social media is one of the forces behind internet adoption in Nepal. There will be more and more demand for internet services in the days and years to come as its use and scope grows, hence the government's decision to reduce the charges should come without delay. Taxes apart, there are ways to bring down the cost of internet facilities. ISPs pay hefty sums of money to Nepal Electricity Authority for renting its poles, whose cost is naturally passed on to the consumer. So coordinating with the different ministries to waive or reduce the charges will provide a big relief to the consumer.

Inexpensive internet facilities will become all the more necessary in the future as the government is implementing the Digital Nepal Framework to make use of digital technology for the socio-economic development of the country. The framework encompasses one nation, eight sectors and 80 digital initiatives. The eight dimensions of Digital Nepal Framework are digital foundation, agriculture, health, education, energy, tourism, finance and urban development. The framework envisages a digital Nepal where commerce, people and the government will be using digital technology to drive innovation, enhance productivity and enrich the quality of life of all the Nepali people. Although it is a tall task, the journey to a digital Nepal should not be that difficult, given that the growth in internet facility and mobile services has been most encouraging.

The framework's success will require the government to put in place technology and infrastructure, entrepreneurship, public private partnership and skill development.

Learn lessons

Why don't the officials of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) and the Department of Archeology (DoA) learn lessons from the public when it comes to renovating the traditional and archeological sites? A recent case in point is the historical Kamal Pokhari, Lotus Pond, where the KMC has used concrete slabs in the middle of the pond and also decided to build an artificial lotus flower, violating the traditional approach to renovation.

Social activists staged a protest rally in front of the KMC office on Sunday to protest against its plan to use concrete slabs and build an artificial lotus flower.

If traditional ponds are rebuilt using traditional materials, rainwater can be collected during the rainy season that will recharge the ground below. Before embarking on the pond's renovation, the KMC should have held a town hall meeting of experts in culture, religion and history of the pond. Earlier, the KMC, DoA and National Reconstruction Authority had drawn flak from the experts and the general public for trying to convert the Rani Pokhari into a money-making recreational park. If Rani Pokhari can be rebuilt in the traditional way, why can't the KMC do the same for Kamal Pokhari?

A version of this article appears in the print on March 2, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.