Poor internet usage: Digital services should encompass everyone

Despite the government’s announcement to build a smart Bangladesh, it cannot be said that we have advanced a lot in information technology. Be it Smart Bangladesh or Digital Bangladesh, this initiative will be successful only when the majority of people will avail the service.

The findings that have come up in the survey of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) on the usage of information and communication technology (ICT) is not at all encouraging. According to the survey, 38.9 per cent of people in the country use the internet. It indicates a large number of people keep out of internet and smartphone based services. Besides, 61.8 per cent people of the country use mobile phone.

Among them, 72.3 per cent are men and 51.4 per cent are women. Only 31 per cent use smartphones at personal level while 68.2 per cent of people use the internet at least once a day.

According to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), ICT skills of the country's people reveals 86.2 per cent of people can copy and paste to move information from one place to another and use content and information in the digital world. Around 83.4 per cent of people can send messages. Programming or coding lags the most as only 1.4 per cent knows how to programme.

According to household estimates, about 97.4 per cent of households in Bangladesh use mobile phones. Among them, 52.2 per cent of households use smartphones. Land phone usage has come down to 0.8 per cent. Computer use in the family is 8.7 per cent. Internet is used in 38.1 per cent of households.

Why are we lagging behind in the two main components of information technology, smartphones and the Internet? Firstly, the government could not make the service available to the maximum number of people. Secondly, digital services are very expensive in Bangladesh.

Almost 20 per cent of Bangladesh's population still lives below the poverty line. That segment cannot afford internet services. Even those living slightly above the poverty line are not able to avail this service. According to BBSsurvey, poverty is also the reason behind the low usage of internet, cell phones and smartphones in the northern part of the country. On the other hand, Dhaka has the maximum number of users of computers, internet, mobile phones and smartphones. Financial compatibility plays a vital role in using modern information technology services.

In the goal set by the government to build a smart Bangladesh, all government services including economy, trade, education, health services should be provided through information technology. But the government offices still use outdated manual methods. For instance, filing general diary (GD) in the police station. GD can be filed online. But why should people print and submit the hardcopy in the police station?

To build a real digital or smart Bangladesh, internet services should be made more accessible and affordable. If neighbouring countries can provide internet at low prices, why can't we? The sector must be provided with more allocation in the budget.

The government must emphasise the economic capacity of the people. The benefits of modern information technology must be made available to the majority of people, if not cent per cent. Otherwise the dream of Digital Bangladesh will remain a mere dream.