Financial Times

Sri Lanka’s broadband shows over advertising and under delivery

By Duruthu Edirimuni Chandrasekera

Chennai, INDIA – There is an element of over-advertising (misleading advertising) by two Sri Lankan high speed Internet access providers (fixed broadband operators) as they more often than not ‘under deliver’, according to a telecom expert.

“The advertised broadband speed and what is actually delivered shows a stark mismatch – especially in fixed broadband,” Chanuka Wattegama, Senior Research Manager, LIRNEasia, an Asia Pacific telecom policy think tank told the Sunday Times FT.

Speaking on the sidelines of a press conference organized by LIRNEasia in Chennai last week on broadband quality in South Asia especially India, he noted that the advertised broadband capacity by the service providers to the general public is more than what they can offer. Only Sri Lanka Telecom and Dialog offer the fixed broadband service at a speed of two mega bits per second.

Chennai briefing, Chanuka Wattegama -third from left

Mr. Wattegama said that the operators are driven to promise things that they cannot deliver and this is mainly due to the cut-throat competition. “What makes any vendor over-advertise is to show that he has a better product (over competition). When it comes to something where users cannot check the quality (of what these operators offer) they take the advantage,” he explained.

He said that while it is not ‘illegal’ (as there are no laws with regard to advertising broadband), it is ‘unethical’. “The service providers need to be more ‘ethical’ in terms of advertising broadband packages,” he said.

An industry analyst noted that the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRC) does not have enough teeth to ‘beat’ this and that it is more a Consumer Affairs Authority issue. “We have installed a ‘speed lab’ at the TRC to check limits of speeds of all services. If there is a complaint, we can look into it,” Priyantha Kariyapperuma, Director General TRC told the Sunday Times FT.

He also said that the regulator is currently compiling a broadband policy for the industry. “All these issues will be addressed in that document,” he added. Mr. Wattegama noted that more often than not only 10% to 20% of the promised broadband service by these operators gets actually delivered.
He added that an ethical move into advertising will create more credibility in the market.

He also said that there are some practical difficulties Sri Lankan operators face in providing affordable quality broadband, such as high cost of international bandwidth. “In the South Asian context, it is usual for the operators to advertise for higher speed than they could offer and this has been observed in the testing done in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh,” he said, adding that a widely used series of broadband, research has also shown that among the six SAARC countries India offers the lowest prices for a 256 kbps (kilo bites per second) broadband connection.

“There is a general trend of decrease in prices in all these countries,” he said. LIRNEasia, with its partner organization, Indian Institute of Technology, Madras, has been testing broadband quality since the beginning of 2008.

The first tests were conducted manually. Later the test methodology was standardised and a software application was developed to get more accurate results.

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