This post was written by Ms Anju Mangal, A4AI Asia-Pacific Regional Coordinator. Follow her on Twitter @Anju_Mangal.
At the UN Digital Cooperation summit in September, H.E. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina announced Bangladesh’s vision to provide high-speed internet connectivity, especially in all schools by 2030. This is in addition to ensuring all rural areas are connected under the ‘My Village-My Town’ initiative. Bangladesh has also made a commitment to the UN Broadband Commission 2030 goals and has set itself a long-term vision for 2041. These goals and targets need to be supported by a strong, forward-looking and well funded national broadband plan that is inclusive in its development and implementation.
A4AI’s recent 2020 Affordability Report highlights the importance of national broadband plans in attaining national goals:
- Countries with a national broadband plan that sets clear, time-bound targets and interventions for reducing broadband cost and increasing penetration, tend to have lower internet prices relative to average income;
- Broadband plans hold the opportunities for lower internet prices for consumers, through targeted public investment and greater market cooperation, correlating with greater internet affordability and device affordability.
Since 2017, the A4AI-Bangladesh coalition has convened stakeholders from the public and private sectors and civil society to shape policy for connecting citizens with affordable internet. On December 8th 2020, A4AI organised a High-Level Dialogue on the Bangladesh National Broadband Strategy and Roadmap in collaboration with the Aspire to Innovate Programme (a2i). This high-level dialogue aimed to advance the discussions in expanding affordable broadband and meaningful connectivity via a Bangladesh broadband strategy and roadmap.
The meeting was moderated by A4AI-Bangladesh coalition’s National Coordinator Shahid Uddin Akbar and opened by Post and Telecommunication Minister, Hon. Mustafa Jabbar. The Acting Chairman of Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC) Subrata Roy Maitra, Director-General of Department of Telecommunication (DoT) Mohsinul Alam, Director-General of BTRC Brigadier General Md Mustafa Kamal, and a2i Policy Lead Anir Chowdhury also attended the virtual high-level dialogue.
Discussions from A4AI were led by Deputy Director and Policy Lead Eleanor Sarpong with support from A4AI-Bangladesh National Coordinator Shahid Uddin Akbar, Regional Head of Asia Pacific Anju Mangal, and Senior Policy and Regulatory Specialist Nathalia Foditsch. Together they highlighted A4AI’s work and progress in Bangladesh, as well as data on internet affordability, investment gaps towards universal access, and policy recommendations.
A summary of takeaways from the high-level dialogue is provided below:
Recognise internet access as a human right – Anir Chowdhury
a2i Policy Lead Anir Chowdhury highlighted the importance of recognising broadband access as a human right that must be supported by a good broadband policy and implementation plan. “It is important to focus on the progress made by the current 2009 plan and review it from the positive effect of tariff diversity on broadband adoption.” He said. Mr Chowdhury also reiterated that Covid-19 has shown the importance of the internet as a lifeline, particularly for learning. New tariff plans therefore imposed by the current government should ensure that students benefit the most. Additionally, having an investment plan that focuses on public-private partnership will be beneficial to the implementation of a revised broadband plan. He suggested that the new broadband plan should be truly inclusive and really “leave no one behind.”
2009 policy needs to be updated and priorities revised – Brigadier General Md Mustafa Kamal
BTRC Director-General Brigadier General Md Mustafa Kamal cited the 2009 Bangladesh broadband policy as visionary and ambitious with short-, medium-, and long-term goals. Md Kamal said that the 2009 policy serves as a guide, and the definition and priorities may need to be revised to embrace new developments in the digital space. The government set up a Social Obligation Fund (SOF) to connect rural and remote communities using Bangabandhu satellite-1, the first Bangladesh geostationary communications and broadcasting satellite. More of such initiatives are in the pipeline.
Align broadband policy with Telecoms Act – Mr Mohsinul Alam
DoT Director-General Mohsinul Alam highlighted the challenges with the existing broadband plan and reiterated similar sentiments around revising the current broadband policy. He added that an updated broadband policy should be aligned to the Telecommunication Act.
Infrastructure, affordability, and accessibility are important to internet access – Mr Subrata Roy Maitra
Incoming BTRC Chairman, Mr Subrata Roy Maitra, highlighted the importance of infrastructure, affordability, and accessibility of the internet and pledged to work with all stakeholders to connect more people with affordable internet.
Connectivity (free WiFi) and device affordability are a priority – Minister Mustafa Jabbar
Post and Telecommunication Minister Mustafa Jabbar commended A4AI for the data shared and its work in Bangladesh. Under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has witnessed revolutionary change in internet expansion in the last twelve years.
Minister Jabbar mentioned the government’s initiative in developing 12,800 free WiFi throughout the country, particularly in remote areas. He also explained a new program to bring high-speed internet to each union in 2021, including remote areas and islands.
In addition, the government has connected educational institutions through public WiFi facilities, and is making sure that broadband is available for all students.
Device affordability is also a priority for the Government. Minister Jabber stressed the need for manufacturers to reduce device costs for students. He mentioned that Bangladesh was once a mobile importing country, but it is now manufacturing quality mobile phones locally and is looking to step up manufacturing 5G mobile sets for exports. On telecoms infrastructure, the Minister highlighted that his ministry has been working with mobile operators to bring all the mobile towers under 4G network facilities.
The next steps
As a way forward, A4AI will continue its work with a2i and other stakeholders on the Bangladesh broadband plan started in late 2018. This overarching broadband plan and an implementation roadmap will support affordable last-mile connectivity, enable public access models, expand digital literacy, and increase infrastructure between ICT and other sectors for the next five years. It will also include identifying and addressing barriers to facilitate broadband to rural and underserved communities. As Bangladesh turns 50 in March 2021, the launch of this project will be key to signal readiness to embrace the opportunities of the next decades (2030 and 2041).