In a bizarre turn of events, the newly appointed Director General of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC), Sunil S. Sirisena has decided to discontinue the National Broadband Initiative (NBI), which ensured high speed broadband internet access to citizens at affordable prices.
It is also learnt that the man who spearheaded the NBI for three years, Sanath Siriwardena, has been shown the door from the TRC, effective from December 31, 2015, for reasons best known to the new Director General.
However when inquired, Sirisena denied such moves to shut down the NBI but said he had taken a decision to discontinue the contracts of all consultants at the TRC, including that of Siriwardena’s.
Despite his claims to run the unit with the leadership of another senior official at the TRC, it is uncertain as to how to continue the NBI without the required expertise at the TRC for broadband technology.
We later discovered that the contracts of three other consultants at the TRC have not been terminated as claimed by Sirisena but only of Siriwardena’s.
The termination of Siriwardena’s services is suspected of the culmination of a personal grudge wielded by a section of the top brass at the TRC against Siriwardena for some time.
It is also speculated that the possible shutting down of NBI is also part of a scheme by a certain operator as Siriwardena saved billion of tax payers’ money being siphoned off to such an operator under the guise of providing internet to schools.
Either way, the biggest losers will be the country’s citizenry who had hitherto enjoyed one of the world’s fastest internet services at an extremely affordable price.
The NBI was established under the guidance of the then Secretary to the President and the Chairman of TRC, Lalith Weeratunge as an extension to the National Broadband Consultative Committee which was established in 2010 to spearhead broadband Internet development in Sri Lanka.
Since the formation of the initiative, Sri Lanka has made significant strides in the development of its broadband platform.
In 2014, Sri Lanka was ranked among top 50 countries with access to high speed broadband (speed above 4 Mbps), outperforming countries like Australia, Malaysia, China and India.
This was possible in a very short span of time by continuously making broadband affordable while increasing the quality of services; the two goals simultaneously pursued by the NBI.
In 2012, Sri Lanka was ranked world’s number one for the lowest entry level fixed broadband charges by the International Telecommunication Union.
Senior retired public servant, Sirisena, who served 36 years as a member of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service was appointed as the TRC Director General on October 15, 2015 subsequent to the President’s Counsel M.M. Zuhair’s tenor as the Director General came to an abrupt ending after a few months in office under the good governance regime.
Sirisena had previously served as the Secretary to the Ministries of Education, Co-operatives and Internal Trade and Foreign Employment Promotion and Welfare. Siriwardena is a highly regarded expert in the mobile broadband technology who has been working as a consultant to the TRC since 2010 before taking the reins as the head of the NBI in 2013.
He was instrumental in setting the standards for broadband in Sri Lanka and they are now being benchmarked by several other countries in the region to uplift their broadband service quality. During his 5-year tenor at the TRC, the broadband subscriber base increased from 500, 000 to 2.6 million as of today. He introduced many industry firsts; one of which was the speed testing facility which enabled subscribers to measure the broadband internet speed enjoyed by them, compelling the service provider to keep to the advertised speeds. After seeing the system, Maldives had asked TRC to implement the same in their country.
Absence of the NBI will leave the subscribers at the mercy of the operators as there will be no state body to lodge complaints against unscrupulous service providers.