In 2020, the number of internet connections in the country has increased by one crore of 24 lakh 46 thousand. Of these, 6 lakh 72 thousand on mobile and 37 lakh 60 thousand on broadband internet connection. And in one month, 6 lakh 8 thousand broadband connections have been made in December. Such information is available from the latest internet connection calculations published by the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC). According to the report, in the last month of the outgoing year, the total number of internet subscribers in the country is 11 crore 18 lakh 75 thousand. Of these, 10 crores 23 lakh 53 thousand use mobile internet. And the number of broadband internet connections has reached 95 lakh 22 thousand.
Discrimination is a term naturally familiar to us. The words financial inequality, social inequality, or political inequality we hear all the time. In the age of technological advancement, we see a new inequality, the digital inequality. There is no denying that technology has changed the lives of countless people. However, many people are being deprived of the benefits of using technology, which must be accepted.
During the time, normal life was disrupted in almost every country in the world. Many countries have made their daily activities online to ensure personal and financial security. Educational institutions or office-courts have had to resort to technology as an alternative in all cases. The discussion of digital inequality is now so widespread. Many people in the world are deprived of the benefits of technology. Online classes, offices, etc. are a horrible name for them. Digital inequality is a global problem. Many countries in the developed world are suffering from this problem. As seen in America and Europe, many people are lagging in terms of technology. Again, various social classifications are also associated with it. The region, gender, socio-economic status is also involved with digital inequality. It is easy to see that the situation is worsening in developing countries like ours.
Many of us have heard of it in many ways – many students have had to travel far from home to attend online classes; Again, many people had to climb the tree to take classes. These are just a reflection of the problems created by digital inequality. We may see many more bad aspects of digital inequality upfront. If we look at the big business media of today, we can see that a good part of them have become online dependent. We all know about Google, Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook, etc. These companies are doing billions of dollars of business relying online. Online shopping has also started in our country. Many people will move forward in this century using technology. However, many people will be deprived of technological benefits. There is no doubt that this will increase economic and social inequality.
Steps must be taken to eliminate digital inequality. We have to build a just society. Steps such as making the Internet-accessible, developing technology-related infrastructure, and educating people as technology-literate will go a long way in preventing digital inequality.
Before the 2008 elections, many did not realize the concept of digital Bangladesh. Later, the Awami League expressed its commitment to build a digital Bangladesh through ‘Vision 2021’ and emphasized the greater use of information technology in all fields. The use of information technology, such as helping to alleviate poverty, also contributes to social justice through ensuring good governance, quality education, healthcare, and protection. To make IT education compulsory in primary and secondary education by 2021, to establish community e-centers in all unions, to establish e-governance, to bring the broadband internet usage rate to 40 percent, etc.
The Information and Communication Technology Policy calls for ensuring social equality and universal access to information technology as one of the strategies for the development of information technology; To bring the disadvantaged people, women, and persons with disabilities and those in need of special assistance into the mainstream of society through the use of information technology.
There have been some achievements and progress in building a digital Bangladesh. The use of information technology in various services such as information gathering, employment, education, medicine, e-commerce, mobile financing, etc. has increased a lot during the COVID-19 period. However, there are some limitations in building a digital Bangladesh. However, not all communities were able to take advantage of information technology during the COVID period. Mainly poor and disadvantaged people, who live in rural areas, who do not have the necessary digital devices or connections, or who do not have the necessary information and skills to receive the services have been deprived or continue to lag.
At present, 55% of rural households in the country do not have access to the internet. Besides, 59 percent of rural households do not have a smartphone and 49 percent do not have access to a computer. Access to services through the use of information technology such as smartphones, laptops, internet connection is important as well as simplification of services and expertise in information technology. In both cases, there is a shortage of poor and low-income people. An idea is available about the accessibility of information technology but the complete idea is not yet available. Because there are divisions within the family that in most cases do not come to the front. Just as there is a division between men and women in the family, there are also different positions in the age group.
At present, participation in information and technology is a manifestation of the capability and empowerment of any community. Information technology is not only a means of communication but at the same time it opens up new fields and possibilities. We have seen some of its applications during the COVID-19 period, though not as a whole. Among other barriers to participation in information technology, the high cost of using the Internet is a burden for the poor. Besides, the failure of government and non-government organizations to create various opportunities for the use of information technology in various fields is also a major obstacle.
Inequality in technology exacerbates the current inequality among the people of the country. Thus, in our class-divided society, it is a harsh reality that not everyone has equal access to public and private services.
The information and communication technology policy formulated by the government is specifically mentioned in the section ‘Social Equality and Universal Access’. Now it is important to implement this policy and specific initiatives have to be taken for this. First of all, information technology must be taken to the doorsteps of all communities. For this, the government has to create the necessary infrastructure in information technology, the non-government organizations have to be made enterprising. Besides, initiatives should be taken to enable the use of information technology, especially the poor and women, at minimum cost.
Writer, Research Fellow, BNNRC