3 Tangible Outcomes from Digital Bangladesh: An Inspiration for South Asia


In 2008, the government of Bangladesh announced a ‘Vision 2021’ pledge is to improve the quality of life and quality of governance, and achieve mid-income country status by the year 2021, on the golden jubilee of the nation.

The vision was widely appreciated because of its intention to ensure inclusive innovation. The government of Bangladesh is in a process of developing a ‘Perspective Plan of Bangladesh 2010-2021’ to operationalize the vision throughout the country.

Digital Bangladesh

One aspect of Vision 2021 is Digital Bangladesh, a pledge to use modern technology to impact every aspect of public and private life by 2021. Digital Bangladesh is being implemented by the Access to Information (A2I) Programme housed in the Prime Minister’s office of the government of Bangladesh, and they have developed ‘the Strategic Priorities of Digital Bangladesh’ in January 2011, three years after the Vision 2021 declaration.

The strategic priorities of Digital Bangladesh are:

  1. Human resource development
  2. Connecting citizens
  3. Digital government for pro-poor service delivery
  4. ICT in business

Now considering where the Bangladesh government is starting from, and potential impeding factors like lack of skills, infrastructure, integration among interventions and political unrest in the country, the Digital Bangladesh goal of a discrimination, corruption, poverty and hunger free happy, prosperous and educated mid-income country driven by ICTs by 2021, is quite ambitious.

There is no quick solution to these issues, and doing anything on a national scale is very complex and depends on many factors, however, we are hopeful because Bangladesh has achieved most of the targets under MDG goals well before the deadline, and Digital Bangladesh has already achieved three major impacts:

New Technologies

To create enabling environment the government has formed several policies like

  1. National ICT policy 2009
  2. Right to Information Act 2009
  3. Information and Communication Technology (Amendment) Act, 2009
  4. Bangladesh Hi-tech Park Authority Act, 2010
  5. International Long Distance Telecommunications Services Policy (ILDTS)
  6. Telecommunications Act, 2010
  7. Bangladesh Telegraph and Telephone Board Act, 2009
  8. Broadband Policy, 2009
  9. Pornography Act, 2011
  10. Rural Connectivity Policy 2010
  11. Format of the Public Private Partnership Policy

The enabling policies made it possible for corporate sector to reach the bottom of the pyramid and as a result mobile subscription, Internet subscription, and use of ICTs in every step of life had a tremendous increase.

In addition, we’ve seen a welcomed increase in new technologies. Previously, WiMAX, VOIP, 3G and Community Radio were illegal in Bangladesh. As a result of Digital Bangladesh, WiMax technology was legalised in 2009. VOIP was legalised in early 2010, and the Government has issued licenses for community radio starting in December 2010.  The 3G technology providers have received licence to start operation from October 2013.

New Programs

To reach the last mile the government has established 4,501 Information Service Centres at each Union Parishad, the smallest rural administrative and local government units in Bangladesh, and e-Service Centres in each office of the 64 Deputy Commissioners, the District level administrative units in Bangladesh.

The e-Service centres provide access to agriculture, health, education, social safety net, legal aid, disaster management and enforcement of law related services. InfoKosh has-been introduced at the national level to make available livelihood content. As many as 220 organisations and about 50,000 information articles have been uploaded on this website by May, 2011.

Digital Bangladesh has resulted the e-services including:

In addition, actions are underway to prepare a National E-Governance Architecture (NEA) to implement ICT projects in public offices.

The government has introduced e-GP (Electronic Government Procurement) system in public procurement to introduce digital system. The digital land management system has been introduced in order to make land administration and management transparent and accountable.

The government is in a process of establishment of multimedia classroom in all educational institutions to sensitise the teachers for developing digital content. To date, 3,172 Computer Labs and 80 Smart Class Rooms have been set up in different educational institutions across the country. As many as 325 textbooks of Primary, Secondary, Madrasa and Technical Education Board have adopted e-Book versions, which can be accessed from www.ebook.gov.bd.

New Mind-set

As you can see, the hype around Digital Bangladesh has already caused several changes in Bangladesh. Most significantly, I would say, is the mind-set of government officials.

As an ICT4D professional, I used to experience difficulties explaining how technology could be used for social and economic development, but now almost everyone have an understanding about ICTs and their impact. Maybe the understanding is not 100% accurate, but the important thing is now the government and social sectors welcome ICTs.

We may have a long way to go, but the process of digital government has started in Bangladesh.

Will India Succeed Where Wikipedia Has Failed?


Wikipedia is arguably the world’s largest, and most complete encyclopedia, all the more impressive as its fully crowd-sourced by volunteers with a passion to detail the world’s knowledge. However, Wikipedia has a serious flaw. Because it is crowd-sourced, its really only complete where there is a crowd interested in adding information.

Let’s look at the number of articles per language, juxtaposed against the world’s population that speaks that language:

Language Articles Population
English 4,413,036 365 million
Dutch 1,715,221 22 million
German 1,669,864 92 million
Chinese 742,005 935 million
Hindi 109,404 295 million
Telugu 54,490 74 million
Marathi 39,722 73 million
Assamese 2,663 17 million

Do you notice anything amiss? Like how few articles are in languages other than English, regardless of population? Or how amazingly few are in four languages of India? That latter point has inspired the government of India to ask the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing to build Vikaspedia, a knowledge portal to reach the ‘un-reached’ communities of India, especially the poor, to make a difference in their social development.

Vikaspedia is starting in five local languages – Hindi, Assamese, Marathi, Telugu and English – and it will will eventually expand to 22 Indian languages. Though unlike the actual Wikipedia, it only has information on health, agriculture, education, social welfare, energy and e-governance, and curiously, isn’t running on actual wiki software, but on Plone, though you can register to contribute.

RSVP now: Tech for Good Fast Pitch by USAID Cambodia


Want to know how you can get involved in using technology to impact Cambodia?

USAID’s Cambodia Development Innovations invites you to the first pitch presentation event. The concept is simple – presenters get 4 minutes to talk and “pitch” their idea. After pitching their idea, presenters and participants network with each other to find areas of collaboration.

In this first event, up to 10 speakers will present their ideas on how to use technology for social good. Presenters will outline their idea and what they need to progress their idea. Perhaps you have something they need – a product, a service, or even a similar idea?

Presenters include:

  • Marie Stopes International Cambodia, Nicky Jurgens, Head of Team Programme Development to pitch about “Improving uptake of long-term family planning methods”.
  • Fourth Sector Innovations CEO, Byungho Lee to pitch about using mobile devices to improve math education in Cambodia.
  • FHI360, Sophat Phal, Innovation Prevention Advisor to pitch about “Application for MARPs”
  • Learning Institute, Eileen McCormick, M&E and Resource Mobilization Officer to pitch about “Develop Research Forum App”
  • CEDAC, Lak Youssey, Project Monitoring and Eveluation Officer to pitch about “Improve Information Access among Farmers”
  • World Education Cambodia, Run Ul, Project Manager to pitch about “Khmer Automated Assessment”

Be sure to RSVP today to join your peers in celebrating great new ideas in using technology for good.

Tech for Good Fast Pitch
Himawari Hotel
Sisowath Quay Khan Doun Penh
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Monday, February 24, 2014 from 3:30 PM to 5:30 PM (ICT)

Mixing WiMAX and UHF TV for Rural Internet Access in Vietnam


Recent statistics show that the majority of Vietnamese who frequently use the Internet are located almost exclusively in Vietnam’s big cities, such as Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Hai Phong, Hue, and Da Nang. This is due to three barriers to rural Internet access faced by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) using conventional cable-based technology:

  • Geographic accessibility: dense forests and mountain areas cause difficulties in setting up networks and operating equipment;
  • Demographic indication: low population densities require large network coverage, hence increasing initial setup and operating costs; and
  • Economic development: low demand and purchasing power reduce profit and increase investment return period.

But what about a new, innovative approach to bring Internet access to rural areas in Vietnam, like combining new WiMAX wireless technology with the existing TV over-the-air broadcasting infrastructure? This approach could enable the delivery of last-mile access to many end users over a large coverage area with a much lower cost.

That’s the idea that Dr. Nguyen Van Hoang and his colleagues at Bac Ha International University tried recently to turn rural areas into an attractive investment for ISPs and bridge the digital divide in the rural areas of Vietnam.

WiMAX + UHF TV Technology

As you can see from the diagram above, they sought to allow WiMAX to be “piggy-backed” on the existing UHF TV broadcasting in the frequency range where TV programs are not available and frequency channels are not currently used. This promises an operating cost sharing between television industry and ISPs, eliminating the initial setup cost of network equipment (i.e. base station site construction and/or leasing), which ISPs normally incur. Operating at lower UHF bands allows a larger coverage area per base station and a smaller number of base stations over a similar coverage area.

In his WiMAX/UHF TV trial, Dr. Hoang found a sub-GHz WiMAX system with transmitting antennas mounted on a TV broadcasting station between 30m to 60m in height can reach a maximum distance of 37km in line-of-sight condition. In both cases where directional and omnidirectional antennas are used, a sub-GHz WiMAX system operating at 450 MHz increases the range of coverage four-fold, compared to a typical WiMAX 2.5GHz system.

This translates to a reduction of 4X to 16X number of required base stations for the same coverage. As a result, the capital expenditure to deploy and operate such system in a given area reduces proportionally by 4X to16X. So while the technology worked, the business model had a major problem.

Business Model Barriers

Dr. Hoang verified a high level of demand (88%) for broadband WiMAX Internet service in Bac Ninh city, a rural area in Vietnam, with an affordable rate of VND 150,000 (approximately USD 7.80) per month for residential and VND 300,000-500,000 per month for commercial Internet service.

Yet, the total equipment cost of such a sub-GHz WiMAX system consisting of 1 base station and 4 subscriber stations (used for a sample calculation) is less than USD 30,000 and the base station equipment represents 90% of this cost. Under an agreement with a TV broadcasting provider, it may be possible to share other costs, such as tower and maintenance. Larger coverage areas and lower capital expenditure are highly attractive to service providers.

Still, a subscriber station (end user) modem currently costs almost USD 690 and this high price remains a technological and economical challenge for this technology from the user’s point of view. Even if service providers gave incentives or provided flexible renting plans to users who sign up for broadband service, the cost is out of range for rural users this system targeted.

This post is derived from Innovative WiMAX Broadband Internet Access Final Technical report by Dr. Nguyen Van Hoang of Bac Ha International University.

Better ICT Interventions with Participatory Action Research in Software Development

Software methodologies invariably originate from the West (developed nations of North America and Europe) and are tailored towards the development of products and services for urban users in their urban settings. Given the origin and the target markets, the context and cultural elements of urban developers and users are “infused” in the methodology and design.

The challenge is identifying and employing methodologies which allow development of relevant software for rural communities. The methodologies should not only encompass the technological aspects but also the complexities of the rural users, the contexts as well as addressing the needs of the target audience. As shown in projects involving target users, the acceptance and usage of technology would be greatly improved particularly if the community is involved in the process.



Participatory Action Research in Software Development

Given the inappropriate methodologies, we propose using Participatory Action Research amalgamated with a software development methodology. We believe community participation in rural projects is important, and more so in the development of technologies such as software which are to be used by indigenous communities. In this paper, the amalgamated methodology mooted is called Participatory Action Research In Software Methodology Augmentation (PRISMA).

PAR has also been used successfully in numerous rural development projects such as in IDRC and in Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s (UNIMAS) eBario Project and its replications. As such, PAR provides the collaborative process of research and action targeted towards positive social transformation. PAR established a two-way communication, which allows the researchers to be involved with the community and vice-versa; the researchers and community are actively involved in the development activities, to seek information, ideas, and generate knowledge to guide.

In PAR projects involving ICT development, we believe there are two goals. One is of course to develop the technologies or software (technology element), while the other is to learn and understand as much as possible from the implementation or deployment (knowledge element). With sufficient evidence from replications, best practices may then be developed which would be of use to other similar projects.

Given the high costs of projects in rural areas, there is a need to maximize outputs and learnings from rural projects. Researchers also have to keep in mind, PAR is appropriate as it has a research component that seeks to engender positive change; and that participation “requires the equal and collaborative involvement of the “community of research interest”.

As shown above, PRISMA comprises two parts, a social change process (dotted circle) and software development process (solid line circle). The software development process encompass the formal and “hard (technological) aspects” which includes the formal components of software development, tools and techniques to carry out the requirements analysis, design, implementation, and testing.

More important is the “soft (humanistic) aspects” which encompass the change the community wants, the reasons they want it, as well as the roles for people inside the indistinct world of political and social systems, multiple disciplines, environments and multiple stakeholders. The soft aspects tend to be fuzzy, and will be outlined in detail.

If we fail to address these non-technical factors, the user requirements may be affected, resulting in poor system design, un-usable user interfaces, over budget and delays in the project. The overlap between the social change and the software development involves merging of processes of both the hard and soft aspects.

PRISMA is a work in progress. PRISMA augments the conventional Software Development Life Cycle employed to develop software for rural communities.

Excerpt from Participatory Action Research in Software Development: Indigenous Knowledge Management Systems Case Study by Siang-Ting Siew, Alvin W. Yeo, and Tariq Zaman.