Digital Bangladesh: Concept of development

Background

The phrase "Digital Bangladesh", although is composed of the catching word "Digital", stands for a concept which benefits the country as a whole by using Information and Communication Technology for management, administration and governance in order to ensure transparency, accountability and answerability at all levels of society and state. Digital Bangladesh will provide us an ICT driven knowledge-based society where information will be readily available on line and where all possible tasks of the government, semi-government and also private spheres will be processed using the state of the art technology.

So, in order to build a digital Bangladesh, we should emphasis on efficient and effective use of modern ICT in all spheres of the society with a view to establish technology driven e-governance, e-commerce, e-production, e-agriculture, e-health etc. for emphasizing the overall development of the common people, the major stakeholders of the country.

Backbone of Digital Bangladesh

ICT is the backbone of any digital initiative. It covers the vast area of information ensuring connectivity through the information technology, communication technology and of course the telecommunication technology. Without the development of the ICT sector, the dream of a Digital Bangladesh would not be possible. The main factors of ICT are the physical backbone and the intellect. Computer Systems, Network Machineries, Software, Wire and Wireless Connectivity Systems, Broadcast Hardware and many other Hardware and Accessories are the physical backbone. The trained human behind the backbone are the intellect. To materialize the idea of digital Bangladesh, development of countrywide backbone and expected number of human recourses are the basic needs. On the other hand, while mass people are concern, availability, accessibility and affordability must be ensured; otherwise the objective of building a digital Bangladesh could not be achieved properly. Due to globalization, more specifically due to booming of ICT like most of the country of the globe, Bangladesh has already been connected with the outside world through the information super highway.

Relationship between development and digitization

Information technology reduces costs, saves time, improves efficiency, raises comfort levels and increases the confidence of citizens. Hence, developing countries such as Bangladesh should leverage the power of IT to leapfrog poverty barriers, and promote economic and social development. But we have to keep in mind that technology (ICT) alone can not alleviate economy, nor guarantee dynamic service delivery to citizens. It is important to understand that ICT facilities Good Governance but ICT itself do not guarantee Good Governance.

Status of our country

Telecommunication and Internet: backbone of communication

Until recently, International Telecommunication System of Bangladesh has been dependent on satellite which was slow and had narrow band width. According to Telecommunication Policy of the government, International Telecommunication Network system is being regulated now by BTCL. Bangladesh has presently been connected with Information Super Highway through Submarine Cable since May, 2006. International Voice Circuits have been increased by more than 200 percent. IPLC (International Private Leased Circuit) has been opened with different companies. BTCL is connected with Singapore and France and Italy for Internet through 12 X STM-1.

The Router capacity of BTCL has been enhanced through up-gradation of digital Data Network. Installation of NGN TAX (Next Generation Trunk Auto Exchange) is going on. It will enhance the inter district Telecommunication facilities. Access Network through Copper Cable, Optical Fiber, x-DSL, Wi-MAX is under process with a view to bring broadband connectivity and other facilities of the Submarine Cable System to the door-step of the subscribers.

Mobile phone: media of communication

Over last few years, a great revolution has taken place in the cellular phone usage in Bangladesh.

It is evident from the table that the number of cell phone subscribers is growing rapidly compared with the fixed phone subscribers in Bangladesh. The growth rate of fixed phone subscriber was 15.26 percent in 2008. Against this, the growth rate of cell phone subscribers stood at 117.57 percent in 2004 and 35 percent in June 2008.

Computer: tool of digitization

Human Resources: work force for digitization

World Scenario

This digital revolution has created a brand new economic sector that simply did not exist before. Computers, modern telecommunication and the Internet all reduce communication costs and break down geographical borders. In addition, ICT can be an important driver in poverty reduction and assure sustained economic growth, better public welfare, and strong social solidity and democratic forms of government. In the developed nations government policies are being established which attempts to ensure that all citizens will get opportunity to access the effective use of ICT in order to enable them to participate in the educational, social and economic activities and democratic process. Developed countries are getting much benefit from the advancement of ICT. People living in developed countries have the best access to the fastest computers, best telephone services, competitive Internet Service Providers, and a wealth of content and training relevant to their lives. For example (Legard, 2001):

  • The total Internet bandwidth in Africa is equal to that in the Brazilian city of Sao Paolo.
  • The total Internet bandwidth in all of Latin America is equal to that in Seoul, South Korea.
  • As a proportion of monthly income, Internet access in the United States is 250 times cheaper than in Nepal and 50 times cheaper than in Sri Lanka.
  • In the United States, gn 1e6 54.3 percent of citizens use the Internet, compared to a global average of 6.7 percent. In the Indian subcontinent, the proportion is 0.4 percent.

The digital divide around the world is usually measured through statistical indices such as the number of telephone lines, personal computers, websites and Internet users and their ratio to the total population. Table:1 shows a picture of such type of statistics of some world including Bangladesh.

Although, there is an overall increment that has been enjoyed throughout the years in various areas of information and communication technologies, the improvement is very minimal in terms of global progression and not as good to be mentioned as an upcoming information society of the world. In fact, despite all these improvements, according to the ICT Development Index, Bangladesh moved down 6 places, from rank 132 in 2002 to rank 138 in 2007. This clearly indicates that there were countries that were ranked below Bangladesh in the 2002 index and they achieved significant improvements to exceed our rank in 2007. The examples include some developing and least developed countries like Pakistan, Gambia, Cote d'Ivoire, Senegal, Madagascar, Mauritania and Benin. The country that expanded most worldwide in ranking is Pakistan, moving up to 19 places, from the rank 146 in 2002 to rank 127 in 2007. Though the rank is still low, the progress has been significant in the past five years because in 2002 there was almost no ICT access and usage in the country, whereas in 2007, 8% households had computers and internet penetration reached 10.7%. This proves that the country has improved in two areas of ICT while Bangladesh improved significantly in one area, which ranked us below Pakistan. So, an overall consistent increment in penetration levels starting from mobile telephones to fix telephone lines and from internet to personal computers is highly needed for making Bangladesh the digital one.

India has led the use of remote sensing satellite information for locating irrigation projects. The Internet has been effectively used in some of the villages to ensure effective dissemination of agricultural commodity price information. The National Dairy Development Board (NDDB) in India has used IT effectively, to enhance competitiveness of the dairy industry and to provide benefits to the rural masses. Towards digital Bangladesh we can use the Indian experience of using ICT in different sectors of the agriculture. Since more than half of our population is employed in agriculture, our planner should put ICT to good use in agriculture.

The Simputer was developed by scientists from the Indian Institute of Science, and a software company called Encore. One can get computing facilities at a drastically lower cost as simputer only cost US$150 per piece compared to US$ 400 for a PC. Further, it has a local language interface. This is an instance of how the scientist, academia and industry can collaborate to develop technology to suit a particular economy. We can learn this lesson also from our neighboring country.

In Bangladesh, 51% of the population does not have access to essential drugs. Further, there are only 26 physicians per 100,000 population compared to 279 for US and 162 for China. ICT can help bring medical expertise to Upazilla and District headquarters. Tele-medicine, for instance may link healthcare centers in remote locations, through satellites, with super specialty hospitals at major towns / cities. Thus it can bring connectivity between patients at remote end, with specialist doctors, for medical consultations and treatment.

Our shortcomings

Access to the Technology

Inadequate technical and policy capacity is a fundamental barrier to digital Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, the lack of technical capacity and public managers' perceptions of ICT is problematic in regard to issues such as migration to IP-based networks, implementation of mobile communication systems, and e-commerce applications, though capacity building measures do exist. One of the chief obstacles to effective e-governance is a lack of awareness about the usefulness of the Internet in policy making, coordination of policy implementation, creating portals in engaging important actors in the policy process, and in building an open and transparent public platform for wider participation. The reason for Digital Divide in Bangladesh is that the telecommunications infrastructure is deficient. In Bangladesh, the telephone density is only about 0.5%, which is the main reason for insignificant internet connection in the country. ICT infrastructure support is inadequate as compared to other countries in this region there is lack of any centralized policy to progress of ICT in the country. There is also some lack of holistic approach to infrastructure creation. The Internet facilities in sub-urban and district level are lag behind. No suitable network among the research institutes is established.

Economic Barriers

The economic condition of the people is one of the vital issues for computer use and internet connectivity. Generally, on average wealthy and educated as well as young, urban and male have the internet access, which appears that economic solvency & education are the major factor during internet diffusion. Most of which are not favorable in Bangladesh. The budget provision for establishment, maintenance and expansion of computer networks in the country is inadequate. Reliable power supply is a major hindrance to develop telecom infrastructure in the rural areas.

Literacy Barrier

The Bangladesh is facing acute crisis of skilled computer user due to literacy problem. Lack of skilled manpower in public and private sectors is created. Information in the net is designed in the advanced technology which requires adequate knowledge for the user. Moreover, overall less educated community who are not very computer friendly. There is also some lack of proper motivational activities to promote e-commerce and e-government

Language Barrier

Language problem is another vital issue for the local user of the internet/web. There are very few web sites available in local language i.e. in Bengali. Local people are not very much frequent / efficient in English as language.

Content Barrier

Lack of Local & Social Issues in the Net Contents in the web is not sufficiently enriched with information and services required by the local user. Still, local webs are concentrated with their product & service promotion. Information based web services have not yet available in the net with local information.

Social & Cultural Environment

As male group of the society can avail the web access facility from commercial centers or outside the home but the local women community of Bangladesh has limited access due to some social and cultural environment. Unfortunately, due to family obligation & service, they can not spare sufficient time for using the net. Use of ICT within the government is still limited as only a small number of civil servants have Internet access.

The high cost of IT equipment

The high cost of IT equipment accessories which acts a barrier towards proliferation of IT accessneeds to be lowered. Due to high tariff levels, the cost of hardware and software in Bangladesh is significantly higher as compared to the rest of the world. For instance, A PC in Bangladesh costs around 12-15 months of average per-capita income as compared to China's 4 months and USA's 12 days. Hence, we need to reduce the tariff levels of ICT equipment and accessories to bring even a bigger population under Internet coverage. So the Inadequacy has been created in the man machine ratio.

Steps to be taken

Development of mobile applications

As mass people in the urban as well as in the rural area use the cellular phone, we have to establish different kinds of mobile application. So they can easily enter into the information world. Most of our people live in with a lower economic condition, so the house hold computer is a dream for them. As the literacy rate is very poor and a person must has a minimum level of knowledge to operate a computer, so it is not feasible for our country that most of the people have access of computer in his house and also use the internet. But a mobile could easily be operated by all level of people.

Those applications must be developed locally with relevant content and languages that promote advanced technology uptake. It is a knowledge driven technology; so, we need the people who have skill, knowledge, information and a level of education. For a future Bangladesh a tech shabby generation is significantly important. This generation would be the driving force for a digitized, prosperous and humane nation. To develop this kind of generation it needs to an education policy and national human resource policy. It is another hard truth that this objective could not be achieved over night, but a good beginning is essential, which will create the expected human resource that will manage, administer and govern future Bangladesh. Ensure a wide range of value added services (VAS). People could be instructed about product feature and cost clearly by avoiding elusive ideas or language. The services that are made available through the use of ICT should be freely available to all who might wish to make use of them. Awareness building program could be launched for everyone in phase by phase or categorically or geographically to aware them how they could be benefited from the use of the ICT.

ICT Education and Human Resources

Different types of IT education program could be launched for different people of the different level of education. It may be the IT discipline, Diploma courses, Training programs, only the introductory courses etc. Technology is important but not works without a person behind. Building of an IT educated work force is the most important segment of digital Bangladesh initiative.

It needs strong commitment and strategic planning for sustainable Digital Bangladesh. The beginning must concentrate on the development of infrastructure in terms of hardware, software and manpower. Merely buying several lakhs of computers and distributing them among several thousand workstations located in colleges, schools, hospitals and clinics will not digitise Bangladesh. Locally produced qualified manpower must be available to keep the system running without depending on foreign "experts." The project presupposes that Bangladesh will be able to build its technical and managerial capacity to design the necessary digital network system, procure and install all the equipment properly, and to educate, train and deploy necessary personnel to operate and maintain the nationwide ICT network. To produce such human resources, the government must assign highest priority to the promotion of science, technology and management education. We must prepare a separate plan to produce adequate number of scientists, computer and communication engineers, software engineers, technology management experts, etc.

Distance education has tremendous potential to spread learning in any country. E-learning is a cost-effective way of providing education at a distance. This is especially important considering that around 80% of our illiterate population is from the rural areas. In this context, it is essential that the government, the industry, NGOs and academia forms partnership to accelerate the Digitalization process. Together, they need to create an 'enabling environment' for the proliferation of ICT in Bangladesh. There are some basic steps that Bangladesh needs to foster online education to be offered by Open University and our National University.Private companies and NGOs can partner, in order to enhance awareness and utilization of ICT at the grass-roots level. For instance, NGO's can work to bring elementary computer literacy to the people of rural Bangladesh. They can make arrangements so that IT professionals and educators visit rural schools and help students get familiar with technology.

Conclusion

Digitization helps increase operational efficiency and productivity provided the supporting infrastructures work properly. This is a tool that will help accelerate economic development and increase competitive edges of Bangladesh in the world market.

Wide-scale digitisation is likely to help Bangladesh become a mid-income country sooner than otherwise possible. However, for proper management the government needs to define its vision, mission and goals and formulate strategies and prepare action plans supported by necessary financial and human resources so that the plans can be implemented.

The forces of globalization and technology are continuously reshaping our economy. The impact of information and communication technology (ICT) is giving rise to a new type of economy - the knowledge based economy.

It is necessary to mention that in the short run "Digital Bangladesh" aims at E-Governance and service delivery through utilizing ICT. But the vision "Digital Bangladesh" encompasses the whole arena of a knowledge based Digital Economy. Bangladesh can't afford to achieve that goal in the short and medium run. The thinkers, technocrats and IT experts have to focus on the short run issues and measures the present Government should undertake to digitalize Bangladesh. It is important to start digitalizing service delivery organs like Police, City corporation, Land Department, Tax Department, PDB, Water supply, Gas and other authorities also including sectors like Banking, Insurance, Customs, Tax Collection. Urgent steps should be taken to digitalize institutions like Bangladesh Bank, NBR, PSC, UGC, EC, ACC and other vital institution to go a step ahead towards Good Governance.

Our government must take proactive steps to take technology to rural citizens. However our dream towards digital Bangladesh has a long way to go. Digitalization of Bangladesh will depend how best the Government can leverage the power of ICT to increase the access to information of its population.

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