In an extraordinary move to stop question paper leak, the government yesterday decided to shut down internet service for two and a half hours on exam days.
Mobile internet will remain fully shut and internet speed will be slashed to 25Kbps for other internet users from 8:00am to 10:30am on those days.
“With this speed customers cannot do anything,” MA Hakim, president of Internet Service Providers Association Bangladesh, told The Daily Star.
During the test run of the speed cap last night, this correspondent could not access any site.
"We all want the question leak to stop and the government should do everything it can about it. But shutting the internet cannot be a solution as it affects our daily lives,” said Hakim.
On February 18, the country will be out of internet service for five hours (from 8:00am to 10:30am and from 12:00noon to 2:30pm), as there are two exams on that day.
Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission made the decision following a request by the education ministry.
The decision drew flak from internet users who termed the decision “ridiculous,” saying it was like "chopping the head off to get rid of a headache".
Some 20 lakh students are taking the SSC exam that began on February 1.
As of December last year, 7.5 crore mobile phones have internet connections while the total number (mobiles and other devices) of internet connections is 8.05 crore, according to the BTRC.
BTRC Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood declined to comment on the government decision.
Contacted last night, ICT Minister Mustafa Jabbar said, "We could not make the education ministry realise that Facebook is not responsible for question leak. But we had to do this following their request ... I hope that government officials realise this in the coming days."
Earlier in the morning, the telecom regulator suddenly asked all the four mobile phone operators to shut mobile internet for 30 minutes across the country before the exam.
But before the order took effect, the question of Information and Communication Technology were already circulating in social media and Facebook messenger groups.
Images of MCQ part of "Ga" set was found on several Facebook pages at 8:57am, about an hour before the exam started. Yesterday, only MCQ test was held.
After the exam, The Daily Star found them to be identical with the original questions.
Leaked question papers of some other exams over the last few days were also found similar or identical to the original question papers.
Meanwhile, the people leaking the questions vowed to leak questions of the upcoming exams.
One Facebook account named Aberul Islam Abir wrote, “Free…Free…Free…Those who need MCQ papers of physics/history/ finance, add me and gave me a message.”
On Saturday, detectives arrested 14 people from different areas in the capital, most of whom are admins of several such Facebook and messenger groups, DB sources said.
Internet users came down hard on the government for the decision.
"This is ridiculous. It's like cutting your head when you have a headache. This can never be the solution," said Shimul, a businessman from Uttara.
Reza, an online freelancer, said the decision would affect people like himself who earn their living via the internet.
"It is going to hurt my business. Is it the only option to prevent the leak? I'm dumbfounded," he said.
Earlier, the government had temporarily shut down internet across the country in 2015 for the first time, after the Supreme Court delivered verdicts upholding the death penalties of war criminals Salauddin Quader Chowdhury and Ali Ahsan Mohammad Mojaheed.
Abdul Baten, joint commissioner of Detective Branch of police, echoed the education minister's claim that some “dishonest people” take snapshots of the question papers when it reaches the examination centres and leak those 30 to 40 minutes before the test.
“The question paper reaches the centre in different phases. From the deputy commissioner's office, it first goes to the centres, then to sub-centres and finally to the exam centres on the morning of the exams. During this period, there is no chance to leak the question as it remains sealed,” Baten said.
The DB suspects some officials of the education board are behind the leak.
About the arrestees, Baten said the leakers were asking people to send money in advance to become members of secret Facebook messenger groups or WhatsAapp groups to get the questions.
Three of them -- Ahsan Ullah, a student of Sirajul Islam Medical College, Aman Ullah, an IT engineer, and Barkat Ullah -- are brothers from Chandpur.
“Ahsan Ullah opened five Facebook accounts and collected several thousand followers. Besides, he is a follower of such groups himself.
“He used to collect question papers from those accounts and post it on his own page,” Baten said, adding that Ahsan received Tk 2 lakh in two days.
“Thousands of students are connected with such Facebook groups. It is hard to identify the origin of the leak. It might take at least six months to trace it,” said Baten.
The DB suggested turning off the mobile phones of those who handle question papers before exams.
300 MOBILE NUMBERS IDENTIFIED
The government has so far identified and blocked 300 mobile numbers involved in question leak, said Mohammad Alamgir, who is heading an 11-member committee of the education ministry probing the leak.
Police already launched a drive to arrest their owners, he said.
"They will face action under the exam and cyber laws, whoever they might be,” added Alamgir, also secretary of the technical and madrasa division of the ministry.
Most of the owners of those numbers are students, but there are some guardians as well, he added.