Plug policy gaps to deepen digital inclusion: experts
Experts at a virtual dialogue yesterday emphasised addressing the gaps in policies to enhance digital inclusion since inadequacy in the ICT policies contributes to weak internet infrastructure in the country.
The National ICT Policy of Bangladesh does not provide clear strategies for digital inclusion in terms of ICT access, use and skills, they opined.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), Bangladesh office jointly organised the virtual dialogue on "Trade in Services in the Digital Age".
CPD Executive Director Fahmida Khatun moderated the dialogue while FES Bangladesh Office Resident Representative Felix Kolbitz delivered the introductory remarks.
Presenting a keynote speech, CPD's former senior research associate Md Kamruzzaman said the country's volume of trade in digitally delivered services (DDS) has increased eightfold from $599 million in 2005 to $4,005 billion in 2019.
Bangladesh's trade in the DDS as a share of GDP fares much lower compared to neighbouring countries, he said.
Neighbouring India and Sri Lanka had featured a much larger share of digitally-delivered services trade accounting at 7.7 per cent and 3.3 per cent in their respective GDPs in 2019, he said.
Meanwhile Bangladesh's trade in the DDS was at 1.3 per cent in the same year as share of the GDP, he informed.
Mentioning that Bangladesh ranks low in digitalisation and digital trade related indicators, he cited access to internet being limited and awareness on internet not encouraging.
Internet costs are high in Bangladesh resulting in a low internet usage rate, he said, adding that cost of mobile data in the country was nearly seven times higher than that in India.
He recommended that ICT policies need to be revised though a bottom-up approach through participation of the grassroots and relevant stakeholders, including technical experts. He said women from low-income families may be provided low-cost home internet packages.
Addressing as a panel discussant, Syed Almas Kabir, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS), underscored the need for developing the analytical and decision-making skills of human resources to enhance software and IT enable services.
About 22,000 IT students graduate every year in the country but they do not have the required skills, that is why they have to go through a training process for the next three to six months and then they become employable, he added.
This is the gap between the academy and industry, he said.
"We need to incorporate those training and skill development within the four-year academic curriculum," he said.
"Not all the e-commerce being practised in the country is digital service. If there is no digital payment done and if it is a cash-on delivery, it cannot be called a digital service unless the transaction is made digitally," he said.
Ninety-five per cent of internet services depend on mobile operators while broadband internet covers only four to five per cent, he informed.
"The problem is that the services we want to provide digitally actually need high-speed broadband network," he said.
Reshmi Banga, senior economic affairs officer of the United Nations Conference on Trade and development (UNCTAD), said cherry-picking policies or ad-hoc policies would not enable the required digital transformation.
There has to be a national comprehensive digital transformation strategy well coordinated with some at the national level as well as sectorial level policies while both demand and supply sides need to be addressed together, she said.