Regarding the equality of internet prices – To Mr. Sajeeb Wazed Joy, Adviser to the Prime Minister on Information Technology

Honorable Advisor,
We call the Awami League government a technology-friendly government. This is because the Bangladesh Awami League has taken many positive policies starting from term 1996, including exemption of tax on information technology industry including computer, breaking the monopoly to expand the mobile phone industry through competition. We have not received any such initiative from any other government. For this reason, as an information technology professional, I am personally grateful.

The call for your “Digital Bangladesh” campaign in the term of 2008 created a great stir among the youth. The people responded to the call of the government in an unprecedented manner. Today, various public and private sectors in Bangladesh are getting so many technological benefits that even if any other government adopts an anti-Awami League policy, it will not be able to stem the tide of information technology.

At that time, many young people including me were so inspired that I went out for a nationwide campaign for the expansion of information technology. In the spirit of building a new country, with the promise of changing people’s lives, on the basis of voluntary labor, I went to various educational institutions and village markets to talk about information technology. We held numerous meetings, seminars, fairs, and huts on various topics, including freelance outsourcing and the new-age information technology profession. Through various types of training, I developed a bunch of new IT professionals. We had a dream that they would all work in their respective villages/cities, earn the same as in Dhaka. They don’t have to come to Dhaka to participate in the mainstream of the country’s economic development. They will be able to earn income from home and abroad by eating from in their mother’s kitchen. Due to low cost, they will live a more affluent life than in Dhaka.

Many of the new professionals were created, they started working, got jobs, started earning. But I noticed with great pain that after a year or two, almost all of them moved to Dhaka. It would be correct to say – they were forced to come to Dhaka.

There is only one reason for this. Lack of internet equality! In other words, the price of the internet and the lack of reliable internet has forced them to come to Dhaka. Those who came to Dhaka and built poles in the mainstream survived, but the rest have fallen.

As an information technologist you know – the lifeblood of this sector is the Internet. The initiatives taken by your government for Information Technology Bangladesh, Digital Bangladesh, Future Knowledge Society are impossible without good quality internet. Although the government has reduced the price of the internet many times, only the residents of big cities like Dhaka and Chittagong are getting the opportunity. But still residents of small towns still have to buy broadband internet at 5/6 times the price of Dhaka, Not to mention the village. And because of this price, the people of the village are not getting a level playing ground to participate in the mainstream.

Today, the only hope of the marginalized people of the village is the metered internet of the mobile company. You know – mobile internet is not considered as mainstream broadband anywhere in the world. This type of internet is basically for temporary use. There is no alternative to broadband for professional work.

The question is why the people of the rural areas have to buy internet at a higher price even after the government has reduced the price? Why are they being deprived of mainstream broadband? We all know Рthere are many small reasons. But the main reason is the cable fare to carry the internet from Dhaka to a rural area. Which we call backbone costs. Internet which costs in Dhaka  1,100 BDT becomes 8,000 BDT to take to Banshgram of Bagulat union of Kumarkhali Upazila of Kushtia district after paying the backbone costs. And since there are not many customers in Banshgram already, there is a huge one-time cost for the connection. There are many different reasons of course, but If we point out the main one reason weakness, the NTTN policy is the one. With the large sums of money that IIGs licensees have to pay only the rent, they are not willing to offer the bandwidth in the rural villages at the price of Dhaka. In most cases, we are paying an extremely high price even if they are using the backbone of the government (railways or other departments of the government).

There is a need to create a ground for amending these policies and related laws, policies, regulations, where an ISP in Kumarkhali can buy bandwidth from IIG at the same price they will buy from Dhaka. Even an ISP of the union can buy bandwidth at the same price as Dhaka. At the same time, in line with the government’s plan to build information technology infrastructure, keeping in mind the fairness of the price of the Internet, the current policy needs to be revised. Our proposal will be to create a National Broadband Strategy covering all issues. In light of that, a national broadband plan has been formulated.

You will notice Рthe Awami League government has invested in taking fiber to the upazila. But the people there are still not getting the fair benefits.  Even the government has taken up the project of taking fiber to the union. If that policy is not changed, then marginalized people will not get the benefits of Union Fiber. Even if the government shows all sincerity, there will be no permanent solution.

We know that Awami League government is a government of marginal people. The village is the main source of the power of the Awami League government. As the the main focus of the development policy of the Awami League is the rural population, this issue must not go beyond that priority.

The constitution of Bangladesh signed by Bangabandhu himself promises equality and justice for all our Bangladeshis. So finally I will say again –

For marginal information technology entrepreneurs and freelancers,
Sufi Faruq Ibne Abubakar

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