In spite of the government’s claims about having made some significant advancement, Bangladesh is still lagging far behind, in development of information and communications technology (ICT), than many other developing countries. Its ranking was at 145 among 166 states at the end of 2014.
The latest report released by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) did amply indicate that the achievement of the country in the ICT sector was merely negligible. The sector is failing to significantly contribute to the country’s economy due to lack of uninterrupted power supply, skilled manpower, faster internet services, easy availability of digital contents etc.
Over the years, Bangladesh witnessed gradual erosion in prices of the bandwidths. Data-based 3D technology has already been launched in the country. Yet the situation has not improved to the desired extent. In South Asian context, Bangladesh is lagging behind all countries except Afghanistan. Even Bhutan and Nepal are ahead of it. Bangladesh’s score was 1.97 as against 1.9 point last year, showing only a slight advance.
The progress, as analysts say, could not be achieved the way it should have been to achieve the goal of digital Bangladesh. Without proper planning, information technology (IT) was introduced in the curricula of the educational institutions with no tangible outcome. Computers purchased by these institutions are seldom used for learning purpose. Those allegedly remain just as ‘show pieces.’
Although 3D technology has reached the country’s district level, it is unaffordable to the common people due to high prices of its service. Poor segments of the population are unable to buy broadband service. The prices of fixed and mobile services continue to decrease globally. But in Bangladesh, the cost of a fixed-broadband plan represents more than 5.0 per cent of per capita gross national income (GNI). Mobile broadband is affordable, at least six times more, in the developed countries than in the developing countries.
Income inequalities within countries are one of the reasons why broadband — in particular fixed broadband — remains unaffordable to large segments of the population. The ICT report finds that in 40 per cent of countries, a basic fixed-broadband subscription still represents more than 5.0 per cent of household income for over half of the population.
For people among such income groups in Bangladesh, mobile broadband may be an affordable alternative. An enabling telecommunication regulatory environment can significantly influence the affordability of such services. The price for uses of ICT services, as has been witnessed, tends to fall with better market regulation and increased competition across the country.
In developing countries like Bangladesh, fixed-broadband prices could be reduced by 10 per cent and mobile-cellular prices by 5.0 per cent if the situation about competition and regulatory framework is improved. International regulatory best practices may serve as a guideline for effective regulatory frameworks. This can lay the foundation for affordable fixed-broadband services in the country.
There is no denying that broadband internet services are yet to reach the doorsteps of the rural people although the government of Bangladesh has taken a number of steps for their countrywide expansion. Internet subscribers are still concentrated in the cities and towns of the country. Mostly, the elites use broadband internet services until now.
Widespread use of the high-speed internet in the country’s educational institutions is very much essential in order to disseminate knowledge among the students. But Bangladesh has only 5.0 per cent internet penetration rate in its schools and is really lagging behind many other comparable countries in the sector. Achievements of the neighbouring countries in this particular sector are far better than the case with this country. If the neighbours can do fairly well, why can’t Bangladesh? This question is being posed by many quarters.
On the whole, only 5.0 per cent of the country’s population have internet access, the same as those of Nepal, Afghanistan and Myanmar. In South Korea, the number of internet users is 98 per cent, followed by Singapore and China at 83-86 per cent. Sri Lanka is the leader in internet access in the South Asian region.
The ITU report indicates that the global number of internet users hit almost 3.0 billion, two-thirds of them coming from the developing world, and that the number of mobile-broadband subscriptions reached 2.3 billion globally. Over 55 per cent of these subscriptions are in the developing world. This demonstrates once again that Bangladesh should go allout for attaining the goals enshrined in its ICT development strategy for expediting the pace of its socio-economic progress.
Meanwhile, the number of mobile-cellular subscriptions reached globally almost 7.0 billion in 2014, out of which 3.6 billion are in the Asia-Pacific region. The increase is mostly due to growth in the developing world where mobile-cellular subscriptions will account for 78 per cent of the world’s total. Bangladesh is reported to be making faster advance in this segment.
In 2014, almost 44 per cent of the world’s households have Internet access. Close to one-third of households in the developing countries are now connected to the Internet, compared with 78 per cent in the developed countries. The number of Internet users globally has reached almost 3.0 billion. Two-thirds of the world’s Internet users are from the developing world. Bangladesh should make rapid advance in household internet connections once those become cheaper.
The government of Bangladesh claims that its biggest achievement is that it had created a generation mentally ready and fit for adopting any technological challenge. If this is the whole bunch of truth, the new generation must adopt ICT technology from the grassroots level to groom themselves as IT experts in the near future and contribute to the country’s economy.
The projected development in the ICT sector should lead to rapid growth of the country’s skilled manpower. This will ultimately help accelerate the pace of its economic growth. If all goes well, the expectations about the ICT sector becoming the largest revenue earner for Bangladesh within the next few years may become a reality.