Bangladesh has the fifth largest offline population in the world, with about 148 million still not connected to the internet, a World Bank study found.
Only India, China, Indonesia and Pakistan have more offline population than Bangladesh, said the report titled World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends, which was released last week.
The report said that nearly 60 percent of the world's population were still offline and could not fully participate in the digital economy. The anti-connectivity policy and regulations are the major barriers.
The Bangladesh government, however, dismissed the findings of the report.
The country's population stands at 159.98 million, so going by the WB's figure only 11.98 million are connected to the internet.
But Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission reported in November that the country's total active internet connections were 53.94 million.
Zunaid Ahmed Palak, state minister for ICT, said the government is satisfied with the BTRC's published numbers. They are authentic and reliable, he said.
“Over the last few years we have developed significantly in the field of ICT and the citizens of the country are enjoying its fruits. We have no doubts.”
“Our calculation shows that internet penetration is now more than 34 percent, and it will be 100 percent by 2021.”
The government has also targeted more than 50 percent broadband penetration by 2021.
Furthermore, some 44 lakh smartphones were sold last year, and the number is expected to double this year, Palak said.
Earlier this month, the Bangla-desh Bureau of Statistics published a report, based on a survey conducted in 2013, which stated that only 4.8 percent of the households have access to the internet.
The report also mentioned that more than 87 percent households had mobile phones.
In another report, released in October last year, the International Telecommunication Union said 6.5 percent of the households in Bangladesh are connected with the internet.
Abu Saeed Khan, senior policy fellow at LIRNEasia, a Colombo-based think tank, said most of the citizens remain offline in Bangladesh due to two major issues.
The government is yet to transform the public services online, so the citizens see no utility in being online.
The other reason is the government's anti-connectivity policy and regulations, due to which the private sector is yet to expand their coverage throughout the country.
Khan, who was also the general secretary of Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh, said Bangladesh and India should take leads from Myanmar on how to put into place a sensible digital policy and regulations.
The WB study also found that employment in Bangladesh's ICT sector is less than half percent of the total jobs in the country, which is lower than that of many neighbouring countries.
Nepal, Sri Lanka and India have more ICT specialists than Bangladesh, according to the study.
The report also said digital products such as mobile phones are considered luxury goods in Bangladesh, so are highly taxed.
Bangladesh has the seventh highest taxation rate in the world on handset imports after Fiji, Pakistan, Samoa, Dominican Republic, Ghana and Cape Verde.
Rezwanul Haque, general secretary of Bangladesh Mobile Phone Importers' Association, said the platform has been complaining about the high taxes over the last few years. Now, the WB has said the same thing.
“We are quite sure if the government withdraws taxes from handset import they will gain more.”
Currently, the industry faces around 25 percent tax, and even after that smartphones for as cheap as Tk 2,190 can be found in the market, he said.
If the 25 percent tax is withdrawn, the price will come down to Tk 1,500. “This will generate more and more jobs in the market and will also help digitise the economy.”
He said the government needs to look at the digital economy as a source of growth and jobs and not just as a source of revenue.