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     Volume 7 Issue 33 | August 15, 2008 |

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The Internet Dilemma
Shara Azad

The majority of Bangladeshis have limited knowledge of the Internet. While they realise that it probably should not take half an hour for a three-minute video to buffer on YouTube and that 10 minutes to download a music file from a friend over instant messaging is a bit much, most are unaware of what exactly comprises the inner workings of this well-utilised tool. Of course, information technology is a field of its own that takes years of study to understand, and new developments every second make complete mastery even harder. However, in reality, it is not complexity that is the source of the bulk of Bangladesh's Internet problems -- it is funding. With just a tiny increase of funding from the government, Bangladesh could easily catch up to and possibly even surpass the rest of the world in the ever-capricious IT (information technology) sector.

The Internet in Bangladesh is a relatively new phenomenon, only a little over a decade old, beginning in 1997. However, in that short amount of time, it has undergone rapid changes, switching from a solely dialup or phone-based connection with the introduction of broadband (cable-based), albeit the slowest type of broadband, in 1999. Now, there is a mix of dialup, broadband, and wireless connections available on the Bangladeshi market, the most popular of which is wireless with the vast of majority of those wireless subscribers receiving their service from Grameen Phone. In fact, of all the Internet service providers in Bangladesh, Grameen Phone is the largest, mainly because it was able to invest a portion of the revenue of its wildly successful mobile telephone branch into building up its Internet services.

The Internet service business is an intensely competitive one. It is difficult for new companies to enter the market when the main players -- Grameen, CityCell, BDCOM, Bangladesh Online Limited (BOL), Link3, and Amra Telecom, to name a few of the over 70 companies in the country -- are competing so aggressively among themselves for the subscriptions of the approximately 1.5 million Internet users in Bangladesh. Still, at the same time, there is new technology emerging every day in the IT sector, so if burgeoning companies were to introduce something completely revolutionary to the market, they would be sure to overcome the obstacles such small companies are facing right now.

For example, the latest buzz in the IT sector is on 'fibre to the home' or FTTH networks. With FTTH, the speed of the Internet not only increases, but also the quality -- once fibre to the home is in place, families will be able to see the high definition of their high definition (HDTV) televisions, monitor their homes with video surveillance, and online game, all of which is impossible to properly do now with the current Internet services. And the beauty of this technology is that it is easier to install in developing nations, so in the future, countries like Bangladesh could pull ahead against the United States and Europe in the information technology race.

Progress and future developments, however, will require acknowledgement of current shortcomings of the Internet in Bangladesh. Moynul Haque Siddiqui, one of the directors of BDCOM, states that “computer literacy in Bangladesh is very low” and that “computer education should begin in secondary school” just to start to ameliorate computer illiteracy, which stems even from the government. Currently, most of Bangladesh's government departments do not use the Internet for even intradepartmental communication; therefore, how will they know to invest money into something they never use and thus, hardly know anything about?

Basically, the Internet in Bangladesh has only made it as far as it has today thanks to a great deal of private investment. However, to go the next step, the government will need to intervene, and for government intervention to happen, they will need to realise the importance of the Internet through their own usage. It will take several years (and in the process, perhaps the nation's bureaucracy will become a bit more organised), but after proper funding, the path is clear. Bangladesh should be able to easily implement new technologies with properly trained workers, which coincidentally also requires more funding, and the Internet can spread from schools all the way out to the most remote villages, much like mobile phones. However, for now, only time and our own efforts to curb computer illiteracy will tell.

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