Bangladesh has the lowest internet penetration in South Asia, with just 14.40 percent of the population having connectivity to the internet, according to a report by the International Telecommunication Union.
The country stands 144th in ITU's ICT Development Index, up from its 148 spot in 2010.
Even Myanmar that introduced mobile phone services only a few years ago came ahead of Bangladesh in the rankings, at 142. Its internet penetration stands at 21.80 percent.
As of December 2015, Bangladesh has 38.67 lakh fixed broadband subscriptions, which is 2.41 percent of the total population, according to the ITU report.
Earlier, the World Bank in its 'World Development Report 2016: Digital Dividends' said Bangladesh has the fifth largest offline population in the world, with about 148 million still not connected to the internet. However, the government denied both the reports.
Zunaid Ahmed Palak, state minister for ICT, said the government is satisfied with the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission's published numbers, which show the country's internet penetration is about 40 percent.
“They are authentic and reliable,” Palak said, adding that the government will request the ITU to update the report with the BTRC's figures.
“We hope they will comply with our request,” he added.However, the ITU stated that the data was collected from the BTRC.
BTRC Chairman Shahjahan Mahmood said the report does not present the real scenario. “We need to analyse it before making any further comment.”
Abu Saeed Khan, senior policy fellow at LIRNEasia, a Colombo-based think tank, said: “This is an official data that has been provided by the Bangladesh government to the ITU.” The telecommunication union never runs any independent report for any country.
“The ITU has nearly reproduced the data without any amendment. Therefore, it reflects the country's digital health, which is miserable,” said Khan, also a former general secretary of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh.
As of June, the country's total number of internet subscribers is 6.32 crore, according to Palak.
“The report can damage us. I will sit with the BTRC chairman and request him to correct the report as early as possible,” he added.
Industry experts 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 issue is the government's anti-connectivity policy and regulations, due to which the private sector is yet to expand their coverage throughout the country.
The Maldives, the smallest country in South Asia, has the highest internet penetration in the region, of 54.46 percent.
The islanders secured the 81st spot in the ranking, which was topped by South Korea.
After the Maldives, Bhutan, another small country, scored a higher position in the ranking, of 119. Its internet penetration is 39.80 percent.
Sri Lanka's internet penetration stood at 29.99 percent, enough to secure the 115 ranking.
Neighbouring India's internet penetration was 26 percent; it came in at 131.
Nepal came in at 136 and Pakistan 143.
In terms of mobile penetration, Bangladesh scored 86.36 percent with its 13.37 crore active SIMs as of December.
India has 78.84 percent mobile penetration, Pakistan 66.92 percent and Nepal 96.75 percent