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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2737

Submarine cable is a landmark in ICT sector in Bangladesh

The historic event that took place near the shore of the Bay of Bengal on 22 May will have a far-reaching effect on the progress and prosperity of Bangladesh. On that day Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia inaugurated the long awaited fibre optic submarine cable system at the landing station at Cox's Bazar and thus connected Bangladesh to the global information super highway.

This event will remain as a land mark in the fields of economics and technology in Bangladesh. The ICT sector will get a boost as the capacity for data and information transfer will be much higher, the speed of transfer will be much faster, voice transfer will have much better quality, the internet and telephone charges will fall abruptly. As a result a host of possibilities for IT activities will open up in Bangladesh.

Bangladesh cannot reap the benefits of ICT if it is confined to selected households in one or two big cities and if we fail to take it to the doorsteps of general people throughout the country. When the fiber optic backbone connecting the submarine cable, and spanning the whole country, is completed it will be possible to open a huge number of cyber centers in the small towns and villages in the country.

The cyber centers can be a place where people will get the opportunity to send and receive e-mail. These are the places where people will have access to internet for information on agriculture, business and health services. They can have both education and entertainment through internet. All post offices can work as cyber centers, in addition to their normal duties. These cyber centers can be economically profitable for the entrepreneurs.

Electronic governance or e-governance is much talked about in this information age. In Bangladesh it can make the government more efficient, transparent and effective; besides, it can generate an experienced IT workforce which cannot only earn money within the country but fetch a huge amount from abroad. In e-governance, government can give information to public and public can have access to important information and documents of the government.

Public opinion may be sought on various issues as interaction between public and government will be possible through internet and websites. People can vent their grievances and lodge complaints.

Videoconferencing to accelerate decision making will reduce the cost of travel and accommodation resulting in huge cut in the cost of governance. Progress of different projects in distant places can be monitored from the capital city and divisional headquarters.

Tender advertisement and tender bidding for government purchases can be done using the internet. Status of various projects of public interest could be displayed through a web site.

All information about different stages, starting from the initial conception of a project, its approval, floating of tender documents and awarding of the contract to the bidder could be made available to the general public for the sake of transparency. Advertisement for various posts in the government sector may be put up on the websites of concerned ministries and candidates may apply through internet/e-mail.

Government should immediately take steps to create a Central Data Bank for the entire population. Electronic ID cards could be made for each individual to be used for voting, opening a bank account, having a license or passport, giving taxes, for obtaining job and so on. Various utility bills for power supply, water supply, gas supply and telecommunications can be paid by consumers through internet. They can interact with these utility agencies regarding inaccurate bills or other complaints.

There can be transparency and safety in land registration if the whole process of registration is computerized. Through Geographic Information System or GIS, with the click of a point on the map information about land, terrain, climate, agriculture, oil, gas, coal, transport, development and demography can be obtained. GIS can be utilized effectively by various ministries.

Bangladesh has great potential for earning millions of dollars in foreign currency by providing ICT-enabled services to the foreign buyers. Bangladesh has a time difference of twelve hours with North America and four to six hours with other main markets which makes possible easy delivery of ICT enabled services. Availability of a large number of computer-trained young people with English base on one hand and low wages on the other puts Bangladesh in an advantageous position. Political will of the government manifested in the declaration of ICT as a 'Thrust Sector', and its desire to turn Bangladesh into an ICT driven country, will definitely help.

The prospective ICT enabled services are call centers, medical transcription, data entry, back office processing, insurance claim processing, salary processing, engineering design, translation, animation and many things more. With the commissioning of the submarine cable system, the materialization of all these activities will be much easier and more affordable.

Through internet there has been an explosion of information, creation of transparency and a tremendous opportunity for acquiring knowledge and doing research in all disciplines. People have access to libraries, books and journals through internet. Distance education and virtual teachers are made possible widely by using ICT. In Bangladesh education and research can get a strong boost by exploiting all these opportunities.

Telemedicine or e-health care has a great future in Bangladesh. Patients in remote places can consult the doctors over the internet. In the future distant analysis/transmission may be possible. Using telemedicine, doctors and other caregivers can consult with specialists thousands of miles away, provide diagnosis and treatment, and continually upgrade their education and skills; and share medical records and X-rays. Telemedicine or e-health care can be of great help to the rural people. A village can be linked to the health services available inside and outside the country.

Rural economy can be substantially improved with the application of ICT. Farmers can have continued specific advice regarding fertilizers, choice of crops and timing of sowing. They can learn relevant technology. Growers can know the current prices of vegetables; fruits etc. throughout the country and can determine the timing and place for sale of their products.

Electronic commerce or e-commerce covers many forms of trade and services, all of which rely on the internet to market, identify, select, pay for and deliver. E-commerce and e-banking or online banking is in a nascent state in Bangladesh. We should develop e-commerce culture to create such buyers who would expect quick service and supply.

The present government approved the National ICT policy in 2002 with the aim of building an ICT driven nation comprising a knowledge-based society. ICT Task Force with Prime Minister Begum Khaleda Zia as the chairperson has been created for making policy decisions regarding various ICT related activities. A project “Support to ICT Task Force” primarily for introduction of e-governance is being implemented. It is strongly felt that there should be a Centre for e-Governance initiatives which will oversee the total ICT implementation in the country thus coordinating all ICT activities. Its primary function will be to standardize the website and software development. Another important unit of this centre should be a National Data Resource Centre where all the information and data can be stored.

To help the ICT sector flourish in the country, there is a great need for an effective legal framework. Suitable legal reforms can create an ICT-friendly environment which will help this sector grow by attracting investment. Copyright Act 2004 incorporating issues related to ICT will reduce the piracy of copyright of an individual or a company. Our much desired paperless environment and filing system in our offices need certain legal protection.

To create a favourable environment for e-commerce, to safeguard the dealings over the net and to check the threat to computer communication, an ICT law should be passed in the parliament.

The law needs to authenticate digital signatures and recognise electronic documents, provide right to information for the citizens and have adequate provisions to check cyber crimes. These are not covered by existing law of the land. Private entrepreneurs, NGOs and above all the entire computer-skilled young generation should come forward with initiatives in ICT in order to fully utilize our newly acquired modern technology. We as a nation simply cannot leg behind.

- INS + Asian Tribune -

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