What need to be done for Digital Bangladesh

February 18th, 2010

Another calendar year has gone by from the life of e-activism in Bangladesh. However, the difference from other years and 2009 is the Digital Bangladesh program of the current government. A key promise of the government is to turn Bangladesh into a middle-income country by 2021 by creating a Digital Bangladesh that will raise the people’s standard of living and improve the business environment.

To achieve that digital society, however, a legal framework and policy is needed. In July 2009, at the initiative of MoICT, a law was passed in the Parliament clearing the way for electronic transaction and for preventing cyber crimes — essentially establishing the much-needed legal framework for these issues. As a result, Bangladesh Bank, on a limited scale, has been able to open the door to mobile wallet and credit card transaction on the internet. Because of this mobile banking, remittance can be made easy for migrant workers and their families. As a follow up, on October 8, the government appointed the controller of the digital signature authority under the jurisdiction of this law.

Before this development, the government passed the national ICT policy with guidance from the access to information program of the Prime Minister’s Office. Under this policy, 306 work plans have been drawn up with a specific time frame. By the end of 2009, within the scope of this plan, the short-term projects were achieved. Among these projects, services like utility bill payment using mobile phone in Dhaka, Chittagong, Sylhet, Pabna, Cox’s Bazar and the Hill Tracts, finding out the timetable, fare, seat availability of trains, and receiving advance warning of disasters via mobile phone are already available. DCs and upazila nirbahi officers have been trained and connected via laptops and internet.

At the beginning of this year, the government gave the license to a company to create a fibre optic network around the country. ISPs have been given IP telephone licenses in order to make

telecommunication services more affordable. To increase countrywide internet services via submarine cable, internet bandwidth price has been reduced by 33%. The number of mobile internet users is estimated to have risen by 30% in the past six months. There are now 5 million internet users in the country, and 4.6 million among them access it using mobile phone.

A committee has been formed to standardise Bangla. National web portals and various other agency sites have added Bangla in their sites. As an initiative to use technology in land management, a pilot project has been taken up at a thana. All the data related to land ownership in Dhaka has been published in a website. A list of freedom fighters has been published online as well.

Last year, what caught everybody’s attention was the increasing use of technology in educational administration. SSC and HSC results were made available via mobile and internet, and were also emailed to the educational institutions. The work for providing laptop and internet connectivity was started in various schools and colleges. Using the data from the education boards, Shahjalal University completed its admission registration process via mobile phone-based applications. For the first time, results of medical college exams and primary exams were available through sms.

To make high speed internet more affordable for students of Shahjalal University and Dhaka University, special free wi-fi zones have been created. To ensure timely availability of textbooks to students, they have been published online. The science and ICT ministry has not only set up computer labs in 128 schools in 64 districts, but has also appointed IT professionals there.

The country’s 800 health centres have been given internet and mobile connectivity. Several telemedicine centres have been built. Along with mobile health services by the private sector, upazila health complexes have started offering similar services. To ensure equal access to technology for all, the government is setting up community e-centres/tele-centres all across the country — there are more than 2,300 of them now. The Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms has digitalised its registration process. Bangladesh Bank started an automated clearing-house on a trial basis last November.

Besides the government initiatives, various private initiatives have started to bloom as

well. “Digital festivals” and “IT festivals” have been held in various parts of the country. Even as remote a place like Bagerhat organised a knowledge festival. BCS, Basis and Bangladesh Open Source Network took active part in these festivals, which have increased people’s interest towards computers.

Although there are many good initiatives like these, things could have been a bit better. Among the disappointments, the most important non-starter has been the automation process of Chittagong Custom House, even though the work had been completed and the finance minister had inaugurated it. VoIP has not been properly liberalised and the long distance telecommunication policy has not been modified even after initiatives were taken to do so. Neither has the work been started for the backbone network of the secretariat. Work on the government’s own network, “banglagov.net,” has not resumed. Neither has the work for a centre of information and statistics. The major development perhaps is the coming forward of the ministry of ICT to take a more proactive coordinating role in this sector. It’s a worthy step towards the institutionalisation of democracy in our country.

Munir Hasan is the General Secretary of National Math Olympiad.

2 Responses to “What need to be done for Digital Bangladesh”

  1. This morning went well but you can do that with spending time.

  2. I want a VOIP provider cell number

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