Digital divide between urban and rural, poor and rich is prominent in Bangladesh. Telecom Infrastructure in Bangladesh 700,000 fixed lines (90% in service). The Telephone density is 0.5 lines per 100 populations. The lowest average telephone density of the world is 0.05 per 100 people in rural areas. Even though through the Grameen Phone provided more than 800,000 mobile cellular telephones, connected in which 16,000 village phones in 15,000 villages providing teleaccess to 30 million people. The Global Internet Population is 550 million. Annual growth approx 30% that is 9% of global population. But in Bangladesh has only 700,000 Internet/e- -mail users i.e. 0.55% of population in which 90% is from Dhaka and divisional cities.
In this situation Bangladesh has declared National Policy on ICT with the vision to comprise the knowledge society by the year 2006. In view of this, a country-wide ICT infrastructure will be developed to ensure access to information by every citizen to facilitate empowerment of people and enhance democratic values and norms for sustainable economic development by using the infrastructure for human resources development, governance, e-commerce, banking, public utility services and all sorts of on-line ICT enabled service. But in this year 2004 also villages do not have sufficient connection with the outside world. Local residents do not have access to news about the country, government, education, neighboring markets, or even about job opportunities. Internet facilities in rural area especially Village Kiosks will attempt to provide up to date information to village residents about all the daily facets of life, also can create opportunity to fill the lack of information in the rural areas.
10 years before in April 1994 from Netherlands e-mail system was started as DrikTAP initiative, and in June 1996 Bangladesh first ISP was set up by a private entrepreneur. The internet technology could not expand as VSAT licensed by BTTB deregulated in 2000.
Presently Bangladesh has more than 80 ISPs. Mostly in Dhaka based, but gradually some are spreading to other cities/towns. However all ICT service providers now are focusing predominantly on the city area, not interested to the village, even though 80% population of the country lives in village. All are reluctant with the prejudice that village is not a profitable region, even though there is a great prospect and need for ‘Rural Internet’ program as like as ‘Grameen Phone program.
However the internet users are e-mail holder not browsers. Broadband, wireless and cable connectivity only available in Dhaka, Chittagong and main city areas. Submarine Cable connection to Global Information Superhighway has signed with SEA ME-WE 4 Consortium to be commissioned hopefully by August 2005. E-business can not be developing as needed and have potentiality. The main problem is e-commerce is prohibition of electronic money transfer, security, privacy.
The dilemmas :
Within the low percentage of education, English language barrier, poverty and lack of true leadership Bangladesh needs to use ICT and digital opportunity for its development through creating ICT entrepreneurship, knowledge based society and Global connectivity. Only less than 20% of its population has access to electricity, more than 95% people do not know what is Internet, even haven’t seen computer yet! Here the cost of computer is middle class farmer’s crop values, and more than 6 months one’s salary.
The most serious problem for Bangladesh is the lack of ICT leadership and strategy both in Government and NGO level, which come from the lack of technological knowledge and expertise among the senior citizens, leaders who are operators and top of the society. According to National Policy, “Bangladesh is committed to provide the Internet facility will be extended to all the district headquarters and subsequently to its adjacent area up to Upzila levels. Internet will be provided to the educational institutions and libraries. To ensure public access to information, Cyber Kiosks will be set up in all Post offices, Union complex and Upzila complex. …” but the situation is not going successful way.
Bangladesh needs Electronic Government that all forms to be made available on the web. All government departments/ministries dealing with members of public to have web pages ensure of goods and services.
But only 10% of government ministries and agencies have websites, most of websites don’t update regularly. All Government publications should have accessible from Web, but only a few forms is available only a few forms are available.
Low computer penetration, slow and expensive Internet access, lack of Bangla interface, lack of credit cards access for international transactions, cyber security and lack of proper laws on internet, is another challenges of the nation.
Social entrepreneurship, potential youth leadership can bring benefits to the majority rural populations. Nowadays just need ice breaking pioneering initiatives and proper leadership from policy level.
Bangladesh has huge number of youth who knows functional English and has college or university degrees but is unable to get job in city areas. These jobless youth can play prime role as a social entrepreneurs as well as ICT promotion and users of digital applications. Even though there is no internet and computers in rural areas but has high potentiality of ICT entrepreneurships as young people has enormous interest to receive the new culture and technologies.
It is proved; the future of ICT promotions, entrepreneurship by youth is bright in Bangladesh. Since 2001 the use of ICT tools has increased dramatically in Dhaka, major districts and divisional cities. In divisional cities almost 10,000 cyber café has been established, mobile phone users has also increased into 30 times, 70% house has satellite cable TV connections. Most significant information is 75% mobile phone users and 95% cyber cafés’ owners are young. More than 90% cyber businesses are running successfully by young business men. Centering on “Village Cyber Kiosk” the agro based village ICT entrepreneurship can be expanded, huge number of social development initiatives can be run effectively.
In rural Bangladesh ICT entrepreneurship would be sustainable and profitable as it will provide service to the mass people. The young owners of the cyber kiosks and, or cyber center can income by providing the services of email and browsing, word processing, printing and publishing, design, net to phone usages, computer training, translation, market related information to village artisans, farmers and venders by making ‘bulletin board system (BBS)’ for local business man. They can start also web design, multimedia, digital photography, videography, software development etc services. The web shopping mall of the local products, computer accessories and software sailing business can be very profitable business. VISP (village Internet Service Provider), NGO and local government agencies can bring lot of work orders (for example data entry) from foreign countries and cities for trained village youth, particularly for rural educated girls. They can also be also man power media to recruit famous company.
The ownership :
The ownership of the modern technology should be majority people, in Bangladesh rural poor. Even though out of 64 in 43 districts have Internet accesses by BTTB, but still very expensive, are not available every places because of technical and administrative difficulties. People are not being conscious to use the internet for lack of information. To accomplish the following 3 steps Bangladesh can change the situation
1) By setting Internet Kiosks in the public place such as at/near railway stations, launch terminals, post offices, the ICT can be available and popular to semi urban, country site as well as rural communities.
2) Providing compulsory training on use of internet, computer as well as ICT education for all Government officials, and free internet connection to all government offices can change the attitudes of implementation levels.
3) By overcoming the bureaucratic inertia and gradually people to people, government to people, government to government interaction will be increased; people participation will be active for democracy and development.
By using the ICT and web applications villagers can get a lot of benefits. Village artisans and producers will get access to global markets as well as city market without middle men exploitations. They will be able to check current market everyday prices. Computer games will be modern and alternative entertainment for the rural children. Growing with computer use children will be 2nd generation programmers, technician and experts. Villagers will be able to communicate with relative in abroad by net to phone, email and chat instantly with low cost. Cyber Kiosk can be e-post office for the e-mail networking as all villages don’t having computers. From e-public services villagers will get benefit from government services like citizens’ rights information, getting driving license, passport, online voting banking, transportation etc.
Despite sustained domestic and international efforts to improve economic and demographic prospects, Bangladesh remains poverty, low level of formal education, overpopulation, and unaccountable Governing culture. The GNP per capita, is around 370.0 (1999, Atlas method current US$) The flow of goods and services in rural areas are hampered by high mark-ups through village middlemen who distort market conditions for their advantage. The middlemen buy at negligible prices from informal sector artisans and sell at a large profit to urban populations. This entire chain of events occurs because of the lack of information of the market that both village artisans and urban buyers face. If this void could be filled then the benefits to poor entrepreneurs would generate employment, increase income, and purchasing power for village residents. Proper initiatives will be taken to utilize ICT systems in agro-based industries, agricultural research, and dissemination of agricultural technology, agri-business development to the farmers and preparation and maintenance of agricultural database.
E-health and e-learning initiatives also can be popular business. In Bangladesh, generally doctors live in city areas; they are not available for the villagers. If ‘Village Cyber Kiosk’ makes electronic link with doctors and send the detail of the patients including photographs – doctors easily can give suggestion within short time through e-mail. Moreover village students will be able to earn degree from the famous initiative through e-distance learning.
Bangladesh Government has declared education for all, good health for all. By using ICT tools the declaration can make realistic. E-health activities like electronic medical records, telemedicine and health education, etc. can make mass peoples’ awareness about child mortality, maternal health and HIV/AIDS pandemic. The Government (E- government) should use ICT system within the public administration to improve efficiency, reduce wastage of resources, enhance planning, and raise the quality of services.
However, to discriminate the information on environmental problems and their causes ICT can help to build the capabilities to fight against the environmental degradation. GIS and other ICT-based systems can estimate crops and play important role for conservation of nature.
The ultimate goal is to establish the aspects of true glocalization ( global + local ) and culture of peace. Today’s world even our mind is divided based on religion and information. Muslim culture has obstacle and misunderstanding about the high tech culture. But ICT opens the gateway for Inter-religious dialogue, understanding, religious freedom. By using the ICT tool Bangladeshi especially Muslim community will be able to know other religions and culture, will be able to overcome the hostility. By overcoming the misunderstanding will may will be find the common vision and purpose centering on one God’s love
In Bangladesh, priests don’t touch the internet; avoid the cyber culture and expand propaganda in sermon also, “Internet is a satanic culture, and is a trap of Jews-Christian to destroy Muslim young generation and religion!…” Not only this but also there is hidden cultural conflict between parents and children about the using the internet. Middle class parents’ feelings, the internet is a pornographic media by which our children’s morality will fall down! But most of the parents and social leaders don’t have experience about the power of new media. They don’t know through the Internet any body can know anything, anytime from anywhere of the world!
To ensure the benefit of the ICT, Globalisation as well as the Global family for majority inhabitances, religious people can contribute more than politicians, educators and social leaders, as Bangladesh is Muslim religions based society. Here ICT can play a prophetic role to promote the Global family values and can unit the whole world into a community.
My eternal desire to see the priests as an internet users, and establishment of community cyber café in religious institutes. If those cyber cafés would open for all, priest arrange online peace dialogue positively with another religions’ people centering on one God, better understanding and consciousness will not be so far.
The intolerance and violence against women and minorities makes tension in Bangladesh. In the male dominant society, Bangladeshi women are two some extinct exploited and oppressed. By grasping the digital opportunity, they will be able to know MAN = WOMAN < HUMAN BEING = MAN + WOMAN
However ICT opens the gate to establish peace and harmony by better understating each other in the knowledge Society. Today through ICT human communication has been expanded which great chance to establish ‘Culture of Peace’. Nationwide internet connectivity, ICT entrepreneurship in rural Bangladesh can play important role for poverty alleviation, public access to information, people participation, youth employment, and reduction of migration from village to city and rise up awareness about social justice, human rights and good governance.
My vision, “one info centre for one village”:
My life desire to see at least one info cyber center in every village of Bangladesh. By accomplishing the national target, ICT can reach to the last mile solutions by giving the benefit to the majority peoples. Regarding this large number of NGOs network and local development organizations can play important role. The advantage things, most of NGO has computer, own office and micro-credit program which make favorable condition to gives the life to targets. Government can also take initiative as like as 80s’decades’ Radio and TV promotion through local government institutions. In order to harmonize the modern technology with indigenous culture, Bangladesh demands to establish ‘Info Cyber Centre’ in each village, which can be also rural computer training centre.
In closing I would like to say, in order to access of quality and relevance information to the people, in Bangladesh needs to launch nationwide internet connectivity and at least on public info cyber center in every village, and at the same time needs responsible websites on e-governance, e-learning e-commerce in which the target and subject can be the village people and life, covering agriculture products and market related information, flood and disaster management, HIV/AIDS and health consciousness, human rights and gender equalization, cultural heritage and social justice.
Dhaka: 7 September, 2004
Note: This article has been published in Panorama of TakingItGlobal | Oct 20, 2004