Net users grow, contents not
Country's number of internet users has shot up sharply in the last couple of years thanks to an all-powerful nationwide presence of mobile technology.
There are over 80 lakh internet users in the country, which will soon cross one-crore mark, keeping pace with the boom in mobile users, according to Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC).
Mobile subscribers base recorded nearly 31 percent growth in 2010 to take the total user number to 6.86 crore, according to the industry regulator.
But Bangladesh's internet usage has been confined to only social networking, chatting, browsing for jobs, scores for a cricket match or reading news reports due to dearth of local contents on the powerful World Wide Web.
Low-cost nature of handsets owned by most Bangladeshi also limits them to voicing, messaging or playing games, unlike smartphones and other handhelds that offers a range of options.
Meanwhile, the number of Bangladeshi users on various social networking sites has also increased sharply, with popular social networking site Facebook reaching the 1 million mark last year. But the development of mobile phone applications for local users has not happened significantly.
Mozharul Islam, a university graduate, spends four to five hours a day in front of his personal computer screen.
"I only use my personal computer for playing games, for chatting with friends and sharing updates on facebook. I also search sites for jobs," he said.
The 28-year-old is not alone; rather he represents the country's growing clan of internet users.
Industry people also admit that the country is still in its infancy when it comes to internet usage, due to lack of local contents.
Rashed Amin, joint secretary general of Internet Service Providers Association of Bangladesh, said there are about 60 ISPs in the country, providing over 2 lakh connections.
"These connections are regular. I think these connections have taken internet facilities to at least 6 lakh people," he said.
Amin said internet penetration rate in Bangladesh has shot up after mobile operators introduced internet modems.
Grameenphone, leading mobile operator in Bangladesh with 2.9 crore active connections, also maintains about 2.5 lakh modem users, becoming the largest internet service provider.
Citycell, the lone CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology-based mobile phone operator in Bangladesh, is ranked fifth out of six operators. But the oldest mobile operator has outpaced most of its competitors by introducing modems for internet users. Currently, it has over 1.5 lakh Citycell Zoom users, according to officials.
Abu Saeed Khan, secretary general, Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh, said Bangladesh has already been brought under internet coverage thanks to mobile technology.
"It is not necessary that we have to have wired connections for internet penetration. The further reach of the internet now depends on the government's decision on spectrum allocation," he added.
BCS President Mustafa Jabber said there must be contents for the prospective local internet users to take the internet penetration rate much higher.
"We have to understand why a farmer will browse on the net. A student cannot take internet connection just to chat with friends on facebook," he said. "So, we have to develop contents in the areas of education, agriculture and health."
"People will be interested in internet if they can find details about land and records, can apply for bank loans, pay income taxes or apply for jobs."
He said there is no alternative for the government but to allow 3G license if it really wants to take internet facilities to the people and achieve the vision of 'Digital Bangladesh'.
Jabber said the government also needs to reduce price for bandwidth to deepen internet penetration. "Mobile penetration in the country has boomed because of its low cost, and also the call charge is lower. The same can be true for internet penetration."
He also urged the mobile operators to spend money in developing contents for local users.
Bangladesh also lacks in developing online contents for school children although the segment is going to be the main internet users in the near future.
Amin of ISPs Association said the number of local contents on the web is increasing gradually keeping pace with the penetration rate. He however said there is nothing for the children on the web other than gaming.