Experts in a virtual dialogue yesterday highlighted addressing policy gaps to enhance digital inclusion, as the lack of ICT policies contributes to the country’s weak internet infrastructure.
Bangladesh’s National ICT Policy does not provide clear strategies for digital integration in terms of ICT access, use and skills, they said.
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The Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES), Bangladesh’s office, co-organized the virtual dialogue on “Trade in Services in the Digital Age”.
CPD Executive Director Fahmida Khatun is coordinating the dialogue, while FES representative in Bangladesh Felix Kolbitz made introductory remarks.
Presenting a keynote address, former senior CPD researcher Md Kamruzzaman said the country’s volume of digital services (DDS) trade has increased eightfold from $ 599 million in 2005 to $ 4.005 billion in 2019.
Bangladesh’s trade in DDS as a share of GDP is much lower than in neighboring countries, he said.
Neighboring India and Sri Lanka had a much larger share of digital services trade, accounting for 7.7% and 3.3% of their respective GDP in 2019, he said.
DDS trade in Bangladesh, meanwhile, was 1.3% the same year as GDP, it said.
Stating that Bangladesh ranks low in the digitization and digital commerce indexes, he said that Internet access is limited and Internet awareness is not encouraging.
The cost of the Internet is high in Bangladesh resulting in a low internet usage rate, he said, adding that the cost of mobile data in the country was almost seven times higher than in India.
He recommended that ICT policies should be reviewed through a bottom-up approach through the involvement of the public and relevant stakeholders, including technical experts. He said low-income internet packages can be provided to women from low-income families.
Syed Almas Kabir, president of the Bangladesh Software and Information Services Association (BASIS), spoke as the committee’s speaker, stressing the need to develop human resource analysis and decision-making skills to enhance software and IT services.
About 22,000 IT students graduate each year in the country but do not have the required skills, so they have to go through a training process for the next three to six months and then become employed, he added.
This is the gap between academia and industry, he said.
“We need to integrate training and skills development into the four-year academic curriculum,” he said.
“Not all e-commerce in the country is a digital service. If there is no digital payment and if it is cash on delivery, it cannot be called a digital service unless the transaction is done digitally,” he said.
Ninety-five percent of Internet services depend on cell phone providers, while broadband covers only four to five percent, he said.
“The problem is that the services we want to provide digitally really need a high-speed broadband network,” he said.
Reshmi Banga, senior economic affairs officer at the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said the cherry picking policies or ad-hoc policies would not allow the required digital transformation.
There must be a national integrated digital transformation strategy, which will be well coordinated with some at national and sectoral level, while addressing both supply and demand sides.