Progress and Prosperity: Development in ICT in 2015

 

Introduction

With the economy growing annually over 6%, living standards rising for most people and the country maintaining stability throughout 2015, Bangladesh has in recent times been dubbed a development role model having produced consistent progress in economic, social and human development indicators. In continuation of the profound transformation the county has undergone since the Awami League led government assumed office for the second straight term in January 2014, the nation has been elevated to the lower middle income status in 2015.

Remarkable progress has been achieved for having decreased unemployment and poverty, as well as developing a pluralistic healthcare, extending electricity coverage, enduring quality education for all, revamping infrastructure and stepping up the country's digitization aspirations.

Moreover, the country emerged as the developing world’s biggest success stories in attaining most of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and has set new lessons for the world in achieving the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The architect of this surprising model of development is Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who has set the blueprint with her charter of change “Vision 2021”, the manifesto envisaged and declared by her party before the ninth national parliamentary election. By breaking with orthodox models for progress, HPM Sheikh Hasina, since then, has been helping to forge a new Bangladesh centered on building a middle income nation by the 50th anniversary of our independence and a developed nation by 2041.

Buoyed by this momentum of growth, an overwhelming majority of Bangladeshis appear content to have HPM Sheikh Hasina in charge. A poll released by Nielsen-Bangladesh in last December, echoing previous surveys, gave her an impressive 67% approval rate with equal measure of support for the Awami League led government. On top of that, another survey, commissioned jointly by, British Council, ActionAid Bangladesh and the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB), revealed in last September that, 75% youths see the country as a more prosperous nation in the next 15 years under the Awami League government.

In a series of special reports, we will highlight the activities and achievements which took place in an array of sectors in 2015. The third of our twelve special reports looks at the milestone achievements in various aspects to achieve Digital Bangladesh in 2015.

Background 
Before coming to power in 2009, the Awami League announced its vision to transform Bangladesh into a technologically advanced "Digital Bangladesh". To that end, a number of measures have been taken in the recent years, under the aegis of HPM Sheikh Hasina and her able ICT Affairs Advisor Sajeeb Wazed, which has resulted in the country now being labeled as the next big IT hub of the world. When only 7 years before, the state of the country's ICT sector could be described as being woefully inadequate at best, today, the country dreams of becoming the next Silicon Valley of USA or Bengaluru of India.

Export Oriented Sector
In 2015, the speed of development of the ICT sector was visible, maintaining the momentum unleashed since 2009. The dream of a Digital Bangladesh is quickly turning into a distinct reality. In September 2015, International Telecommunication Union honored HPM Sheikh Hasina with the ICT Sustainable Development Award recognizing her contribution in harnessing the power of ICT for sustainable development of the country.

The ICT sector has added US$ 400 million to the export income of 2015 alone. World's leading management consultancy firm AT Kearney reported that, due to notable growth in IT outsourcing, business processing outsourcing (BPO) and software development, Bangladesh has secured 22nd place in Global Service Location Index (GSLI). In 2014, the country was in the 26th position. GSLI index classifies top 55 countries into three categories: financial attractiveness, people skills and availability and business environment. In South Asia, only India and Sri Lanka are ahead of Bangladesh in this index.

Pubkic Services at the Doorstep
With the goal of mass digitization, the current government has set up 5,275 'Digital Centers' around the country, taking digitization to the smallest unit of local government in Bangladesh, the unions. These centers are providing 200 types of services to the people, such as computer training, mobile banking, employment information, birth registration, visa processing etc. These centers are also becoming hubs for the local entrepreneurs. These ICT entrepreneurs are earning taka 20,000-100,000 per month. More than 12,000 youths have been employed through these digital centers. The total earning of these entrepreneurs have reached US$ 18 million. Work is on progress to transform 8,000 post offices into digital centers too.

Digitizing Government
From 2009, the current government is taking different initiatives to digitize the activities of government bodies. In this process, Bangladesh National Portal (www.bangladesh.gov.bd) was launched which has won the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) award for the second consecutive year in May 2015. The national web portal was nominated under 'Access to Information and Knowledge' category. Another portal, namely ‘Teachers Portal’ was also nominated in the 'Capacity Building' category. More than 25,000 websites and 42,000 government offices are connected to National Web Portal of Bangladesh. It provides over 150 e-services.

Under the Bangla Govnet project, 58 ministries, 64 offices of District Commissioners, 64 offices of Upazila Nirbahi Officers (chief executives of sub-districts) have been brought under a common network. Under the Info Sarkar-2 project, inter-connection has been established among 18,500 public offices. To ensure the continuance of the work of the government officials, 25,000 tablet computers have been distributed. To provide the latest and seasonal information to the farmers, 254 Agriculture Information and Communication Center have been established around the country. Establishing 25 Tele-medicine centers have increased the opportunity for rural people to have specialist-level health services just by dialing the phone.

ICT Infrastructure
The major success in ICT industry is to initiate the infrastructural work of the two hitech parks, one in Kaliakair, Gazipur and the other in Jessore. Jessore Hitech park has already started ICT training activities as the 90 percent work of the establishment is already completed.
On a 232 acre land, the infrastructural work of Kaliakair Hitech Park has been initiated. For internal communication, a 4921 meter long road has already been made. Government is also moving forward with a plan to establish silicon cities in every divisional headquarters.

A software technology park has been opened at the Janata Tower in Dhaka which aims to connect the ICT-based startup organizations. Sixteen companies are already conducting their services in this 12-storied establishment. Thirty four more organizations will join them.

Bangladesh Enters Space Age 
Bangladesh started its quest to enter the space age as the work to launch country’s first satellite ‘Bangabandhu-1’ has already started. Scheduled to start orbiting around the Earth by 2017, government has inked a $248 million deal with a French company Thales Alenia in November, 2015. The work has been started on designing to finish the preliminary steps within March 2016. The satellite will save $14 million a year from renting transponders of foreign satellites. With the launching by 16 December 2017, Bangladesh will become the 57th country to own a satellite. Bangladesh has brought a satellite orbiting slot from a Russian company, Intersputnik International for $28 million earlier in 2015. It is expected to be located at 119° East longitude geostationary slot.

Mobile and Internet Usage
The total number of mobile phone users in Bangladesh has reached 133.72 million by the end of December, 2015. At the same time, the number of internet subscribers reached a total of 54.12 million. Free internet services through installing Wi-Fi have been installed in public universities. Bangladesh Secretariat has also been brought under free Wi-Fi service. In terms of internet usage, Bangladesh has overtaken India and Pakistan. After introducing 3G, work is underway to introduce 4G service by 2016. Bangladesh has started working on joining the information superhighway by establishing a regional network with Bhutan, India and Nepal. The country has already installed 58 kilometer fiber optic cable between Panchagarh and Banglabandha.

Skill Development
Government has taken a number of initiatives with a goal create a self-dependent future of the country and becoming a top IT outsourcing nation. To generate 100,000 skilled ICT professionals, government has launched Leveraging ICT for Growth, Employment and Governance (LICT) project. Through this project, 34,000 people have been trained successfully. Among this number, a project named FTFL will train 4,000 youths. To provide top-up ICT training to 10,000 and foundation training to 20,000 youths, the government has appointed the UK-based ‘Ernst & Young’. Already 3,500 students have received training. Moreover, Ernst & Young will provide employment to 60 percent of the trainees.

Under Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC)’s BKICT project, 3276 youth have been trained. Around 80 physically challenged youths have also received training here. Under the Support to Development of Kaliakair Hitech Park project, 4,981 youths have received ICT training. To increase self-dependency, Learning and Earning project is working on creating 55,000 freelancers. Already 20000 women have received training. Under the Bari Boshe Borolok (Getting Rich At Home) project, 14,750 youths have been trained as freelancers of whom 70 percent are women.

Laws and Policies
For the advancement of information and communication technology and to create an investment-friendly conditions, government took steps to modernize the existing ICT policy. By reforming and reorganizaing the ICT Policy 2009, government formulated the ICT Policy 2015. Private STP Guideline 2015 and ICT Department Recruitment Regulations 2015, Cyber Security Strategy Guideline 2014, Information Security Policy Guidelines 2014 have also been implemented. The drafts of the National E-services Act and Digital Security Act have been prepared.

Future Plans
Government has formulated a roadmap for development in ICT in 2016. The activities are clustered in six categories: industry, infrastructure, e-governance, human resources development, laboratories and services. The roadmap for the industry has set targets to generate 1,000 innovation, raising software export earnings to $5 billion by 2021, developing an eco-system for the gaming industry etc. Moreover innovation and entrepreneurship academies will be set up.

For strengthening ICT infrastructure, government has set target to take fiber optic to all unions between 2016 to 2018. More than 550 Business Processing Outsourcing (BPO) centers will be set up from division to upazila levels. Government has taken steps to digitize the judiciary by 2018. The government has identified 100 aspects of the judiciary where ICT can be harnessed and assist in the resolution of 3 million cases currently in backlog.

To ensure good governance through the use of ICT, government has taken initiative to reduce paper works via the use of enterprise resource planning software (ERP). To develop human resources, the ICT Division is going to set up seven incubator and training institutes outside Dhaka.

Digital Bus is to be introduced which will play nationwide imparting ICT knowledge. Six modern training labs will set up in these buses. Mobile phone operator Robi and Huawei Bangladesh will jointly implement this project. Lessons of online tutorials from Khan Academy are being translated into Bangla. Once done, students in Bangladesh will be able to avail themselves of the content of Khan Academy in Bangla. The ICT Division is also going to establish a Digital Forensic Lab and Software Quality Assurance Lab.

3,000 computer cum language labs would be set up across the country. These labs would be set up in 970,000 educational institutions around Bangladesh. In phases, this number would be increased to cover all educational institutions.

To bring diversity in providing ICT services, the government has already started the project Info-Lady. Under this project, rural women would be able to learn basic ICT from ladies who would go door-to-door imparting training through handheld devices. A national helpline would be started, through which citizens can seek all kinds of assistance. Through the implementation of the e-shop project, the adverse impacts of middle men on producers would be reduced, and farmers would be able to get fair prices for their produce.

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