"Internet in Bangladesh: A Millennium Perspective"
By: Hakikur Rahman, Bangladesh
Nepal IT Conference : Jan 27 - 28, 2001, Kathmandu, Nepal
Categories and Topic Areas: IT in developing countries- the SAARC experience.
Title: "Internet in Bangladesh: millennium perspective."
Though the first main frame computer came to Bangladesh in 1964, but the usage of PC became popularize very late to the common people. Several large banks and private entrepreneurs in industrial sectors are the path makers of achieving benefits from computer and computerized applications. Bureau of Statistics and a few nationalized banks are the leaders in using computer in government sector by processing data and information, while industrial concerns in private sectors are the leaders in applying computer for their accounting, payroll and inventory related applications.
A joint survey by the Bangladesh Computer Council and Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, published in April 1999 has found that there were more than 78,000 PCs in Bangladesh by the end of 1998, with more than 120,000 licensed software marketed (Report on Survey of IT Resources of Bangladesh and Identification of Y2K Problem Areas, 1999). The highest concentration is in Dhaka with more than 72% of the computers involved in IT related activities. However, it is expected that the number of PC user would be increased by at least 50% within a year after with drawl of government imposed import taxes from computer and computer related accessories in 1999.
To improve IT sector furthermore, a government appointed committee submitted 45 recommendations in September 1997 with Dr. Jamilur Reza Chowdhury as the Convener. There were both short term and middle term recommendations; some of them have already been implemented and the government has asked different concerned ministries to go ahead with implementing the other recommendations (Chowdhury, J.R., 1999).
The Internet came late in Bangladesh, with UUCP e-mail beginning in 1993 and IP connectivity in 1996. By July 1997 there were an estimated 5,500 IP and UUCP accounts (Press, L., 1999) in the country and by the end of 2000 it has been forecasted that the account holder could reach more than 50,000 through different Internet Service Providers (ISP), who are offering Internet services with bandwidth ranging between 65Kbps and 2Mbps through VSAT, Broadband and Zacknet downlink.
Keywords: UUCP, IP, Broadband, Zacknet.
Internet Scenario of the country
In June 1996, the government decided to allow private entrepreneurs to act as ISPs using VSATs (Very Small Aperture Terminal). In 1999, there were about 22,000 account holders with 10 ISPs (8 in Dhaka and 2 in Chittagong) and the total number of users ranges around 100,000, while in 2000, there are about 50 ISPs providing Internet services to more than 250,000 Internet users. The growing demand of the society and the congenial global atmosphere towards Internet has pressurized the entrepreneurs to re-think their policies and strategies to accommodate the newly emerged rapidly enlarging target group.
Initially there were only a few UUCP (Unix-to-Unix Copy Protocol) accounts in the country and then they were replaced by IP (Internet Protocol) accounts. At a later stage low bandwidth 64Kbps VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) link became the main Internet backbone of the country with 120 million people. Demand did not inclined high compared to the huge population base, because most of them lives in rural areas where minimum tele-communication infrastructure is missing and at the same time purchasing power of the general communities limiting Internet connectivity with prevailing socio-economic conditions.
Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board (BTTB) has already established a network for high bandwidth Internet connectivity through offering commercial services. BTTB is establishing a fiber optics backbone throughout the country and also has a plan to offer ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) service using the facilities of the already installed digital exchanges in Dhaka and Chittagong cities. They have opened X25 and X28 services in eight cities of the country and established Digital Data Network (DDN) at Dhaka and four other cities. Through DDN they are going to offer IPLC (International Private Leased Line Circuits), National (Point to Point High Speed data Circuits), Local (Point to Point High Speed Data Circuits) and E1 Access from PSTN (Public Switched telephone Network) to ISPs (http://www.bttb.net/bttb_home_ddn_rate.htm).
An Information Technology village is going to be set up very close to Dhaka. The government has already made 18 acres of land available for setting up this IT village. This would be similar to the Software Technology Parks in India. All the infrastructure, including high-speed telecommunication facilities (2Mbps link) would be provided. These would enable the small companies to move into buildings with readily available facilities. Since this is going to take at least two years, a decision has been taken to initially set it up in an existing building in Dhaka (Chowdhury, J.R., 1999).
After the with drawl of imposition on VSAT in April 2000 the Internet scenario of the country has been changed drastically. An entrepreneurs has only need to obtain a simple permission from the government run BTTB with an annual mandatory fee of USD3500 and can choose any globally available transponder services. Breaking of this monopoly has increased competition in the market with rapid reduction of equipment cost and cost of satellite services, reflecting abrupt reduction of Internet usage fee.
Costs of VSAT equipment are nearly USD 40,000 and annual lease fee to the Internet provider costs around USD24,000 with the mandatory annual fee to BTTB. Legal framework now also permits ISPs to float public share in the stock exchange (Rahman, H., 2000).
At present there are nearly 50 privately owned Internet Service providers serving around 50,000 account holders-based connectivity with more than 250,000 users. At the same time, several Telecentres/ Cybercafes are providing e-mail and Internet services and they have increased the popularity of Internet usage and in a way the number of Internet users in the country. It has been observed that students are the main clients of these telecentres. A telecentre opened by the SDNP (Sustainable Development Networking Programme- A UNDP funded project) Bangladesh at the BIDS (Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies- the executing agency) premises is offering free Internet services to school and college students, including students from nearby slum areas since July 2000.
Current bandwidth of Internet backbone ranges between 64Kbps and 2Mbps through dedicated full-duplex VSAT links. There are a few companies, who are trying to make popularize their Broadband connectivity sharing an allocated bandwidth. Zacknet seemed to lost popularity because of its one way communication. There were a few ISPs who were using Zacknet for downloading during rush hours, but cost of the service has been restricting its popular use.
Concentration of ISP is the most in Dhaka city, where more than 80% of them are located. Only three has been established in Sylhet, three in Chittagong and one each in Rajshahi, Khulna and Bogra. There are about 5 large ISPs and among them Grameen Communications has a customer base of more than 6000. Two of the ISPs are offering their Internet services through 2Mbps full-duplex VSAT link, while highest peak time Internet usage rate ranges from Taka 1.50 to lowest Taka 0.20 (2.00 to 6.00 am for one ISP).
Internet Related Education
Unless the domestic market grows rigidly to accommodate locally educated youths in this field, there would be quite difficult to initiate successful training institutions, and also to produce export oriented skilled and experienced manpower. Similar situation is prevailing in the export market for software made by the local entrepreneurs. Very few obtain the opportunity to leave the country for higher education and, or obtain the opportunity to serve an internationally reputed software house. But, records shows that expatriate Bangladeshis are performing quite well in their respective field of software and Internet business in overseas.
Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (BUET) is the first institution to offer post-graduate degrees in Computer Science and Engineering. There are about 25 universities offering undergraduate degree programmes in IT related fields. All the four BITs (Bangladesh Institute of Technology) and 20 Polytechnics Institutes are also offering IT courses and programmes in their contents.
The survey of BCC and BBS in December 1998, published in April 1999 has found that almost 12 percent of the computer users are enjoying the facilities of Internet services and more than 55 percent of the surveyed PCs are being involved in human resources development (Report on Survey of IT Resources of Bangladesh and Identification of Y2K Problem Areas, 1999).
Recently there has been upsurge on human resources development in the field of ICT and government, non-government and several international institutes have taken diversified effort to establish world class training institutes. However, it has been found that there numbers are not sufficient enough to handle the huge number of rapidly increasing eager students in this sector, and also expensive enough to afford by the general communities.
In the on-going ACM programming contest on Internet, the performance of Bangladeshi students is among the best- out of the top 25 positions, 17 are now occupied by Bangladeshis. In the Regional ACM (Association of Computing Machinery) Inter-collegiate Programming Contest held in Dhaka recently, teams from Bangladesh (particularly from BUET) performed much better than those from other countries of the region (Chowdhury, J.R. 1999).
There are very few standard institutes in the country, who are offering high quality Internet education in Bangladesh, but their costs are so expensive that they are barely within the reach of the general people. Many private organizations have opened independent institutes, though highly dense in Dhaka, are running with lack of trained professionals, proper syllabus and lack of acceptable technical qualities. Scopes are there to establish a Internet based institute with high quality services at reasonable fee to produce ICT (Information and Communication Technology) personnel for global market (Rahman, H., 2000).
A large number of Bangladeshis are now working in the IT field in different companies in USA and are gradually moving up to the organizational hierarchy. The government is trying to get the assistance of these non-resident Bangladeshis (NRBs) in IT development, particularly by giving them incentives to set up software companies in Bangladesh (Chowdhury, J.R., 1999). A perfect example of this sort of initiative is Tech Transfer-2000 Bangladesh conference held in December 23-24, 2000, hosted by BUET and organized by TechBangla (overseas students residing in USA).
Bangladesh Open University (BOU) is another prime prospective institute in the country who could take a leading role in educating rural youths in the field of Internet and telecommunications through its widespread national network. BOU could also easily use the facilities and services from similar computer networks running throughout the country by adopting simple inter-institutional collaborations.
Regarding expansion of Internet services, one should concentrate to provide ISP services to small cities in the country, where there have not been any ISP services. While there has been too much concentration of ISPs in the Dhaka city and is leading to increasing competitions.
Establishing VSAT link at the root level may seem expensive at the primary stage. There may be possibilities of using locally designed long distant Micro wave through multiple wireless routers and these links are readily available locally at very reasonable rate for accessing remote area users. It has been found that straight line of path (60Km range with 3Mbps access speed), each tower unit cost approximately USD2400 (Chowdhury, T., 2000).
Sustainable Development Networking Programme (SDNP), a non-profit ISP is working in the field of providing digital connectivity to academics, national and international agencies and development partners. This project is financed by the UNDP and executed by the Bangladesh Institute of development Studies. Utilizing SDNP backbone, Internet services could easily be extended to the remotest regions of Bangladesh through its regional hubs and information centres (Rahman, H., 2000).
Names of a few "value added" product examples are cited from an APC (Associations for Progressive Communications) proposal; Action Applications, Online Discussion Groups, NGO Virtual Office, Online Training, Collective Online Fundraising/Fair Trade, and Online Community services (Surman, M.,1999(1)). These services are in some way would create a vast market for e-commerce by adopting fees for charging for content and charging for publishing tools and, or market promotion/publicity.
Balancing between activism and sustainability requires a new way of thinking that blends the best from both social movement organizing and business practice. There is no point running non-profit computer networks that just offer the same old Internet tools provided by the private sector. In business terms, this is a perfect ‘niche market’. It is also a perfect way to mix activism and business. And, a good way to create financial sustainability. Success in this area is simply a matter of good product development techniques and good marketing (Surman, M.,1999(2)).
Due to the failure of the government the country could not able to obtain a link to the sub-marine cable in 1991 and also due to negligence in government policies the country domain .bd is still not functioning properly. In the absence of a ccTLD (country-code Top Level Domain), the email and Internet users are suffering from bandwidth wastage and in this way cost of the browsing is increasing and speed of email communication is decreasing. Hopefully, the matters would be resolved in the shortest time through pertinent measures from appropriate authorities.
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