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Policy failure widens digital divide gap

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BANGLADESH has notched 13 steps down in the internet affordability drivers index among 58 developing and least developed countries due to the country's slow progress in the area compared with that of other countries, according to the 2017 report of Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI).

The A4AI is a broad global coalition working to enable everyone and everywhere to access internet. According to the A4AI's 2015 report, Bangladesh ranked 33 with a score of 39.13 among 53 countries. In the latest report, the ranking fell down to 46. Bangladesh scored 39.41 out of 100 in the latest ADI.

The report showed that in communication infrastructure development Bangladesh's ranking was 16 in 2015 that declined to 41 in 2017. In access to internet, Bangladesh was downgraded by seven steps to 41. The A4AI in its report said that Bangladesh's social obligation fund, for example, was designed to fund the extension of telecommunications facilities in underprivileged areas, but there was no recent history of direct public infrastructure investment in broadband.

Among the South Asian countries, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal and even Myanmar have done far better than Bangladesh in the internet affordability drivers index in 2017. In the Alliance for Affordable Internet report, Sri Lanka ranked 24, Pakistan 28, India 35, Nepal 41 and Myanmar 42 among the 58 countries.

The global association of major players in the internet arena in its report suggested employing public access solutions to close the digital divide, fostering market competition through smart policy, implementing innovative uses of spectrum through transparent policy, taking urgent action to promote infrastructure and resource sharing, making effective use of universal service and access funds, ensuring effective broadband planning turns into effective implementation for improving the situation.

None of these are unachievable goals -- but once again, there is no focus on implementing these policies because IT growth is not given priority like other sectors like power and transport. This is a tragedy as with proper support ICT exports could place Bangladesh on the track of earning at least USD 5 billion by 2021, provided Bangladesh follows a model which will suit it best. Japan, South Korea, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar could be huge markets for software products developed in the country. We have to formulate our marketing strategy considering that.

An easy way to foster growth would be to encourage local software developers to grow by giving them government projects. This could easily enable us to improve our expertise and professionalism in ICT by testing whether our products could tackle the international markets. Reducing prices for intenet bandwidth and simultaneously increasing ICT infrastructural capability are other ways by which our ICT sector could get a boost. One thing is clear -- political will and focus are needed if we are to be internationally competitive in the world's ICT market. We must take up the challenge.

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