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One info centre in one village Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Shahjahan Siraj, Bangladesh Oct 20, 2004
Technology , Child & Youth Rights , Poverty   Opinions
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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.

Youth leadership:
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.

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Writer Profile
Shahjahan Siraj

Shahjahan Siraj is a multiemdia designer, film maker and development practitioner (http://www.machizo.com/siraj) in Bangladesh. He is the founder of Machizo Multimedia Communication, however editor and publisher of 'Climate Radio', 'UnnayanTV' and 'UnnayanNews'. (http://www.machizo.com)
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