Bridging the digital divide: Access to ICT & media

Mohammad Saiful Islam | Published: May 27, 2019 21:06:03 | Updated: May 27, 2019 21:09:16

The digital era truly started in the early 2000s when the total number of global internet users crossed the one billion mark. With the emergence of mobile internet, that number decupled within the next 10 years. While emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and internet of thigs (IoT) is poised to shape our future, the government of Bangladesh, in alignment with governments all around the world, is focusing on technology to ensure poverty alleviation, quality education, gender equality, industry innovation and infrastructure, peace and justice and partnerships. All these are aspects revolving around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The key essence of achieving these goals through technology will be to bridge the digital divide. The Digital Divide, or the digital split, is a social issue referring to the differing amount of information between those who have access to the internet and those who do not. Broadly speaking, the difference is not necessarily determined by the access to the internet, but by access to ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) and to media that the different segments of society can use. Another key factor will be how well the government and its relevant stakeholders standardise the technology.

Government, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and public entities are working rigorously on the issue. Critical areas for bridging the digital and technology standardisation gap in Bangladesh, I believe, should evolve around the notions of mitigating the knowledge gap, developing research and development (R&D) facilities, standardising rules & regulations, standardising equipment and quality of service.

• MITIGATING THE KNOWLEDGE GAP: It has now become essential to mitigate this gap in the technology sector. Though the national curriculum includes ICT studies, more relevant topics should be included to it. Additionally, there should be an enabling environment for the tech sector which will help in empowering policy, legal, market, and social considerations by interacting both at domestic and global levels in a bid to create productive conditions for ICT-led growth. Regulatory reforms in terms of regulation of communications services and infrastructure, data privacy protection, security, intellectual property rights, public infrastructure, internet governance (including domain name registration), and general principles of competition should also be considered.

Simultaneously, telecom operators, regulators and authorities need to update their knowledge of what creates competition in the market such as competition from over-the-top (OTT) providers, the evolution of network technology, single play and full-service providers and changing regulation in Investment Time Horizon (ITH).

• RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT (R&D) FACILITIES: OEMs (Original Equipment Vendors) should establish R&D centres in Bangladesh if their business volume crosses a certain limit (e.g. US$ 100 million per annum) in Bangladesh. Existing giants such as Microsoft, Apple, Samsung, etc. are making massive investments in Asian countries to utilise the cost advantage. Bangladesh, with its hugely under-utilised manpower (cheaper than India, Malaysia and China), can also benefit from these initiatives, provided that there is an established foreign investment platform with a nationwide IT infrastructure and skilled labour force.

To create a favourable environment for R&D establishments there should be mobilisation of sufficient research and training funds, venture and investment capitals from government, public, private and external sources. Promotion of awareness about the importance of R&D among politicians, bureaucrats, researchers, managers, administrators, academics, professionals, members of the public and other stake holders is also essential. Last but not the least, strengthening of intellectual property rights regime (e.g. enactment and enforcement of laws, strengthening of administrative and judiciary institutions) is fundamentally required to ensure the existing interest.

• STANDARDISING RULES & REGULATIONS: In order to develop a national telecommunication infrastructure to support the economy and welfare of the country by providing telecommunication facilities on demand, assuring satisfactory quality of service and ensuring value to the customers along with a sound National Telecommunication Policy (and regulations) is essential. The existence of a functioning regulatory regime means the investors will feel safe to invest in a level playing field that is free from anticompetitive practices.

As networks continue to grow and diversify with 5G and IoT on the horizon, it is important that they can interoperate to enable end-to-end communication. Network interoperability has become increasingly important in the telecommunications industry with the emergence of network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined network (SDN). These kinds of technology have freed customers from vendor lock-in by replacing proprietary hardware with open source software, which allows companies to collaborate, differentiate themselves and deliver new services.

• STANDARDISING EQUIPMENT AND QUALITY OF SERVICE: Telecom networks have increased significantly in utility and capacity and are now a critical catalyst for most businesses. However, the energy consumed by networks has also increased. Power measurement is an essential part of the energy evaluation. Consequently, a complete definition of all of the factors influencing power consumption is necessary.

As a hidden part of the information and communication (ICT) networks and the devices we all use every day, International Telecommunication Union (ITU) standards are rarely perceived by users as vital for enabling the interconnection and interoperability of ICT equipment and devices manufactured by hundreds of thousands of different companies around the world. ITU standards provide developers with a global market, enabling economies of scale in production and deployment that translate into benefits for users in both cost and functionality.

BTRC Quality of Service (QoS) Guidelines mainly focuses on End-to-End QoS measurement including subscriber perceived quality. QoS should encompass end-to-end value chain including Nationwide Telecommunication Transmission Network (NTTNs), tower companies etc. Power infrastructure is an integral part of the value chain and it's the biggest cog in the wheel of Digital Bangladesh ambitions.

Net Neutrality is another important factor of QoS. Internet service providers should treat all internet communications equally and not discriminate or charge differently based on user, content, website, platform, application, type of equipment, or method of communication. At the moment, there are no laws in Bangladesh which ask internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all data equally. ISPs already have extensive power. They can restrict access to websites under the directive of courts and governments, and have done so in the past. Governments should mandate ISPs to treat all data on the internet equally and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.

To be at par with the rest of the world, it is of utmost importance that there is proper awareness about the constraints and solutions regarding the technology sector in the country. In order to achieve the vision of a truly 'Digital Bangladesh', this is extremely necessary on the part of not just the government but also the relevant stakeholders.

Mohammad Saiful Islam is Director, Deployment & Projects, Technology, Grameenphone Ltd.


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