Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Robi blocked bdnews24.com’s Bangla website for 10 days citing orders; authorities deny

  • Senior Correspondent, bdnews24.com
    Published: 2018-06-12 09:58:05 BdST

Telecom operator Robi had shut bdnews24.com from its mobile internet for 10 days in an unprecedented outage that angered readers of Bangladesh’s largest internet newspaper.

In two emails sent to bdnews24.com’s technology department, Robi explained it as an instruction from government agencies, but none of the agencies acknowledged the telecom operator’s claim.

A spokesman for Robi vehemently denied the allegation, but his statement was at odds with the two emails sent by his company.

The users of Robi mobile internet or modems complained to bdnews24.com that they could not access the news publisher’s Bangla website as the outage began just after June 1 midnight.

The blackout affected an unspecified, but a significant share of mobile internet users as Robi is the second largest telecom carrier after Grameenphone. The mobile internet accounts for 93 percent of about 86 million internet users, according to data released in April from Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission or BTRC. 

Responding to user complaints, bdnews24.com contacted Robi and the operator named two agencies in an email sent at 7:55pm on June 9, holding them responsible for the blackout.

“It’s found that the link https://bangla.bdnews24.com has been blocked by” the two agencies, Robi said.

Generally, an aggrieved organisation or individual needs to inform telecom regulator BTRC if they want any website blocked on specific allegations.

If the BTRC takes those allegations into account, it orders international internet gateway operators and other service providers to block the site.

A top official at the BTRC said they had not issued instructions to block bdnews24.com.

Such instructions are issued for all operators, not a particular one, according to the regulator.

The IIG and other operators also said they had not been ordered to block the link: bangla.bdnews24.com.

When bdnews24.com informed Robi’s relevant department about the denial of the agencies, the operator sent a second email at 2pm on Sunday.

It said in the email that they got the “request” from an agency “to block the link https://bangla.bdnews24.com/ on Friday, June 01, 2018 11:35pm” and their technical team “confirmed the block on Saturday, June 02, 2018 12:07am.”

They got the “request to unblock the same URL from the same agency on Sunday, June 10, 2018 12:23am” and they “confirmed the unblocking on Sunday, June 10, 2018 9:24am”, according to the email.

Robi declined to name the agency in the second email, citing a “confidentiality issue”.

bdnews24.com then demanded an official statement from Robi.

This time, the operator’s Vice President for Corporate Communications and Corporate Responsibility Ekram Kabir simply denied having blocked the website.

“Robi is a responsible digital company. We firmly state that the allegation being levelled against us that we had blocked the bdnews24.com website is not true,” Kabir said on Monday. 

“We do not block any website without instructions from the proper authorities and we did not receive any such instruction (to block bdnews24.com).”

Asked why the outage happened, Kabir said, “We don’t have any technological issues.”

“But,” he added, “The mobile network eco-system is dependent on other technologies as well. We request the bdnews24.com authorities to check if there was any problem at these ends.”   

In response, a bdnews24.com spokesperson said their technology team checked back with other operators and internet service providers and found their clients had no problem in browsing bangla.bdnews24.com in those 10 days when Robi users had faced the blackout.

“It could not be accessed only on Robi mobile internet and modems. The site would not have been seen on other operators’ internet if the problem affected all the carriers,” he pointed out.

“Various actions are often attributed to intelligence agencies, which create confusion and cause inconvenience to stakeholders,” he added.