Airtel cuts Nepal's internet link for five hours over payment dispute

Airtel cuts Nepal's internet link for five hours over payment dispute

Nepal suffered an internet outage lasting five hours on Thursday after Indian telco Bharti Airtel reportedly cut off upstream links into the country because Nepal’s private ISPs are behind on their payments.

According to a report in the Kathmandu Post, the internet disruption started around 5pm local time and lasted until 10pm. A statement from the Internet Service Providers Association of Nepal (ISPAN) said the disruption was due to Airtel shutting down inbound traffic to the country.

Nepal’s private ISPs get their international capacity primarily via terrestrial links with India. The report quoted ISPAN chairman Sudhir Parajuli as saying Airtel provides around 70% upstream services to Nepal. Tata Communications also provides bandwidth to the country.

Both Airtel and Tata have complained that Nepal’s ISPs have not been paying for that bandwidth, and have been threatening for some time to cut off service unless they start paying up.

Parajuli said Nepali ISPs owe Airtel alone more than $30 million, according to the report.

The report also said that the outage mainly affected fixed-line users, and that state-owned Nepal Telecom was unaffected because it doesn’t owe money to Airtel.

The root of the problem has to do with a long-running dispute between Nepal’s private ISPs and the Nepali government over taxes. According to media reports, the parliamentary Public Accounts Committee under the previous administration had exempted private ISPs from paying taxes for non-telecoms services such as web services, co-location, hosted services, disaster recovery, managed services, data centre and cloud services for the fiscal year 2017-2018.

The next government later rescinded the exemption and ordered the ISPs to pay the waived taxes. The ISPs are still contesting that decision.

However, the report said, in the meantime they need foreign exchange from the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to kay foreign vendors like Airtel and Tata – and the ministry has refused to provide foreign exchange until the ISPs pay the taxes.

Last year, Airtel and Tata set a deadline of December 31 to pay nine months worth of unpaid fees or face service disruptions. No action was taken immediately after the deadline as the telcos awaited the outcome of Nepal’s general elections in January.

After the shutdown Thursday afternoon, Airtel agreed to restore service after the Nepal Telecommunications Authority promised to sort out the payments problem, the report said.

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