So much for Digital Bangladesh!
It has become increasingly clear that the carrot of a pre-installed "free" app being dangled in front of our noses is covering up intentions that are far more insidious. We are talking about the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission's (BTRC) order to pre-install the Bijoy app in all imported and locally-manufactured Android phones. This order has come with the veiled threat that, if the BTRC-supplied Bijoy APK file is not installed and displayed to the commission, a no-objection will not be issued for marketing the phone.
The decision to impose this on consumers and sellers, with very little explanation for taking away their freedom of choice, has drawn criticism from across the board. The issue is made murkier by the obvious conflict of interest: the BTRC operates under the Ministry of Posts, Telecommunications and Information Technology, and the patent of the Bangla typing software Bijoy has belonged to its minister, Mostafa Jabbar, since 1988.
The minister has tried to make light of this order by arguing that the app will be provided free of cost, and that customers are free to uninstall it from their phones at will. But if customers are truly free to make this choice, why make its pre-installation mandatory?
The truth is that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The use of a product always increases its commercial value, and given that Bijoy is far less popular than other, more user-friendly keyboards, like Avro and Ridmik, there seems to be a very transparent reason behind the plan to suddenly have Bijoy downloads go up by hundreds of thousands at once. Because if the reason really is to make a Bangla typing software available to users, as the minister suggested, then why not provide one that users already prefer?
The issue here is not only the total disregard for citizens' right to choose. The process of putting forward this so-called order is in itself dubious since, legally, no government organisation has the right to make using a specific product or service mandatory. According to news reports, the BTRC order is based on an announcement from the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution terming Bijoy as the standard keyboard to follow. So under what due process did it suddenly become mandatory?
At the end of the day, this is not just about a keyboard. This is yet another step towards the slow erosion of digital rights and personal freedoms in the country. Before going forward with this decision, the authorities must ask themselves: is this really what they want Digital Bangladesh to be known for?