The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) has approved a new project connecting the country to a third submarine cable and meeting growing demand for internet bandwidth.
If the project is completed at a cost of Tk693.17 crore, bandwidth will increase by an additional six terabits per second, increasing the possibility of earning foreign currency.
The project was approved at the Ecnec meeting held online on Tuesday. It was chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
At a press briefing at the end of the meeting, Member of the General Economics Division (GED) under the Planning Commission Dr Shamsul Alam presented the details of the four projects that had been approved.
He said the prime minister had instructed the Bangladesh Telecommunications Company Limited (BTCL) to expedite the delivery of telecommunication and internet services in rural and remote areas.
"Private companies do not want to expand their services in remote areas. BTCL has to take on this responsibility," he quoted the prime minister as saying.
Bandwidth to be exported to Bhutan, India, Saudi Arabia
Shamsul told the briefing the effectiveness of one of the two existing submarine cable connections in Bangladesh would end in 2025, and the project was taken up to be connected to the new cable.
He said bandwidth was already being exported from Bangladesh to India's Seven Sister States.
"Bandwidth exports to Bhutan are almost finalised, and there are also proposals from Saudi Arabia in this regard," he added.
Shamsul said the project would play a role in earning foreign currency.
The prime minister, he said, has expressed excitement over the project proposal.
Md Mamun-Al-Rashid, a member of the Physical Infrastructure Division of the Planning Commission, said the SEA-ME-WE-6 submarine cable from Singapore to France would be extended to the Mediterranean Sea through the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea and the Red Sea.
"The cable will have core landing stations in Singapore, India, Djibouti, Egypt, and France. The Bangladesh branch will extend through the Bay of Bengal to the cable landing station in Cox's Bazar," he explained.
He said 13,275 kilometres of core submarine cables and 1,850 kilometres of branch submarine cables would be laid under the project.
Also, land cable connections would be laid up to the Carrier Neutral PoP at the Singapore and France landing stations.
Four projects worth Tk2,115.2 crore approved
Shamsul said the Ecnec approved four projects, new and old, and they would be implemented at a cost Tk2,115.2 crore.
Of the amount, Tk1,440.87 crore would come from the government's funds, and Tk300.83 crore from the funds of implementing agencies. The remaining Tk373.5 crore would be borrowed from foreign sources.
Shamsul said the Ecnec approved the first revision to the project for re-excavating the River Arial Khan, the River Haridoa, the River Brahmaputra, the River Pahariya, the branch of the River Meghna and the branch of the River Old Brahmaputra, under the Ministry of Water Resources at a cost of Tk903.42 crore.
At the time of approval in 2017, the cost of the project was estimated at Tk500.28 crore. The cost now has increased by Tk403.14 crore or 80.58%.
Shamsul said the prime minister directed the authorities concerned to complete the project maintaining quality.
Although it was supposed to end in December last year, the Local Government Division's Municipal Governance and Services project tenure was extended to June 2022.
Also, the cost of the Tk2,470.94 crore ongoing project rose by Tk277.35 crore in the second revision.
Moreover, the first revised proposal of the project titled "Telecommunication Network Modernisation for Ongoing Digital Connection" was approved by increasing the cost by Tk741.54 crore. The initial cost of the project was Tk2,573.40 crore.
Prime minister seeks explanation for project tenure extensions
Three of the four projects approved on Tuesday were old, and their costs had increased by Tk1,422 crore.
Shamsul said the prime minister had wanted to know the reasons for not completing the projects on time and the increase in costs.
He said officials concerned had given explanations in response to the prime minister's query.
When asked about reasons for the increase in project costs, Md Zakir Hossain Akanda, a member of the Planning Commission's Agriculture, Water Resources and Rural Institutions Division, said most of the projects seeking revision had expired.
"Project tenures need to be extended when work is not finished according to schedule. Following the new rate schedule instead of the old one also increases costs," he added.