Govt backs off from setting up free Wi-Fi zones, finally

‘The plan has been scrapped over question of financial viability’

Mehdi Musharraf Bhuiyan | Published: November 03, 2018 10:16:25 | Updated: November 05, 2018 20:51:58

Reuters file photo used for representation

The government has finally backtracked on a plan to set up a thousand free Wi-Fi zones across the country, when it came to the question of financial viability of such a scheme.

At the same time, it also shelved the idea to establish its own digital money pay-point and payment gateway as well as the plan to set up giant LED panels in 64 districts across the country, officials concerned said last week.

The idea of setting up a thousand free Wi-Fi zones was originally mooted as part of the scoping proposals for the billion-dollar 'Establishing Digital Connectivity' project of the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Division.

"However, after a round of discussions with the technical committee and relevant high ups-- the idea was scrapped considering its financial viability," Md Mohsinul Alam, Additional Secretary of ICT Division, told the FE last week.

Insiders involved with the project formulation observed that the Wi-Fi zones which were originally planned to be established under the scheme would, in reality, have a range of no more than 40 metres which would hardly be able to serve a good number of consumers.

"In addition, the cost of setting up and maintaining the Wi-Fi zones would be huge," said Mr Alam.

"Wi-Fi zones are already becoming common in many public places and we don't think that such countrywide arrangement would be sustainable for the government," he added.

Apart from free Wi-Fi zones, ICT Division has also scrapped the idea of setting up digital money pay-point and payment gateway as part of its digital connectivity scheme.

"Digital payment arena is already getting saturated with the arrival of new private players in this market. Considering this, we felt that further intervention from our side would overcrowd the market," said an official of ICT Division preferring anonymity.

The original scoping proposals also included the idea to set up giant LED panels in 64 districts which, according to the authorities, would have been used for publicising the government's development activities.

However, this mega plan was also scrapped at the last moment after receiving red signal from the high ups, officials informed.

The billion-dollar digital connectivity project would instead now focus on establishing broadband access points across the country as well as setting up more than 2,500 digital labs at schools and colleges.

Just last week, ICT Division signed an agreement with a Chinese company 'China Railway International' for implementing the project.

The initial cost of the project was estimated to be around US$ 1 billion or around Tk 85 billion. However, the actual cost may cross Tk 100 billion by the time the Development Project Proposal (DPP) is finalised and the final cost estimation is made, insiders informed.

The bulk of the project financing would come as loan from the Exim Bank of China while the rest would come from the state coffer.

The original scoping proposal of the project identified 16 areas of project intervention. However, after a round of reviews by the technical committee, the scoping areas have been reduced to 8, the officials concerned said.

Major activities of the digital connectivity project would now include establishing 21 broadband access points across the country.

Once completed, the colocation facilities will help in bringing high speed broadband internet in the rural and suburban areas at lower cost, authorities concerned hoped.

Transmission capacity of each of these colocation facilities will be 200 gigabytes, they informed.

Apart from the broadband access points, more than 25,000 digital labs will be established at schools and colleges across the country as part of the billion-dollar scheme, officials informed.

The total cost of establishing these digital labs is projected to be around Tk 29 billion, officials said.

Besides, a number of specialised labs including seven 3D labs, two robotics lab, and 50 advanced computing labs will be set up to facilitate research on computer-aided designing, robotics, Internet of Things (IoT) and cyber security.

Other specialised labs that would be established under the billion-dollar project include one government data lab, one vital statistics lab and 11 VLSI labs.

In addition, a total of 100 digital villages will be set up across the country on a pilot basis to facilitate agricultural research through ICT technologies, big data and computing.

The project would also provide IT infrastructure facilities for the Civil Registration and Vital Statistic (CRVS) programme of Cabinet Division including fingerprint and IRIS collection devices at biometric enrolment points.

Besides, a digital literacy centre will be established to provide remote ICT training up to upazila level all over the country, officials informed.

The whole setup including the broadband access points, digital literacy centre and specialised labs will be controlled from the common IT platform which would be set up at the 21-storey building to be constructed at Purbachal.

Starting from the middle of next year, the three-year scheme is expected to be completed by 2022.

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