Internet in Nepal
Although through 2010 less than 43 percent of Nepal's population used the Internet, use of the Internet in Nepal is growing rapidly. This is the result of a competitive Internet service provider (ISP) market and low Internet access prices. Thirty-one private ISPs offer Internet access to businesses and consumers, through few, Worldlink, Websurfer and Mercantile, dominate the market with a combined share of more than 70 percent. Cyber cafés are important sources of Internet access for Nepalis; the country is believed to have the highest concentration of cybercafés in the world. Much of Nepal's Internet access is concentrated in the more-developed Katmandu Valley region, as the mountainous terrain and low income in remote regions of the country make access more difficult. However, one effort to bring Internet access to rural populations—the Nepal Wireless Networking Project—has already wirelessly connected seven remote mountain villages to the Internet, with plans to network twenty-one villages in all.
Although relatively few Nepalis presently get their news from the Internet, it has nevertheless become an important source of independent news in Nepal. When King Gyanendra assumed authoritarian control in 2005, for example, traditional media were either shut down or heavily censored to ensure the publication of only favorable news about the monarch. Nepali bloggers became an important political voice and source of information to the world about the situation unfolding inside the country.
Legal and regulatory frameworks
Nepal's legal system is in flux because of its unstable political landscape and its new constitution. The most recent collapse occurred in February 2005, when the king assumed control of the government and armed forces. Mass civilian protests followed, and he was forced to reinstate parliament and ultimately relinquish all official powers to the prime minister and parliament. The king sought to stifle the independent media during his tenure, passing the repressive Media Law, which prohibited criticism of the king and royal family and the broadcast of news over independent FM radio stations (an important source of independent news in the country). The Media Law also increased the penalties for defamation tenfold. The law was repealed once parliament was reinstated.
In December 2006, seven political parties and the Maoists agreed on a new interim constitution that paves the way for the Maoists to join the political mainstream and nationalizes royal properties, leaving the fate of the monarchy up to a general election. The interim constitution guarantees certain social freedoms including freedom of speech and expression, freedom to protest, and freedom to establish a political party, among others. The constitution also guarantees the freedom to publish, including a specifically enumerated freedom to publish on the Internet. It advises, however, that those who publish information that causes social disruption or disparages others may be subject to punishment under relevant laws.
One such law is likely the Electronic Transaction and Digital Signature Act of 2004 (ETDSA), which regulates online commerce and financial transactions and criminalizes certain online behavior, including hacking and fraud. ETDSA also provides criminal penalties, including fines and up to five years in prison, for the publication of "illegal" content on the Internet (though it provides no definition of illegal content), or for the publication of hate speech or speech likely to trigger ethnic strife. Similarly, the National Broadcasting Act of 1993 and the National Broadcasting Regulation of 1995 provide for fines and/or imprisonment for broadcasting content likely to cause ethnic strife or social unrest, undermine national security or moral decency, or conflict with Nepali foreign policy.
However, the extent to which any previously existing laws will retain their force under the new government is unclear.
From October 2006 through January 2007, the OpenNet Initiative conducted testing on six Nepali ISPs (Worldlink, Everest, Mercantile, Nepal Telecom, Speedcast, and Websurfer) to detect possible Internet filtering (censorship). The tests revealed no evidence of filtering.