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Bridging the Digital Divide in Bangladesh Through Innovative WiFi Solutions

Sheikh MD Seum
Guest Author | Janata Wifi
Categories:
Resilience
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February 8, 2024

Bangladesh, a country with immense potential, faces a digital divide exacerbated by economic disparities. 

The Internet, once a privilege, has become a necessity, and as such, overall Internet usage has increased nearly seven-fold since 2011 (Figure 1). 

Figure 1 — Internet penetration in Bangladesh (2011—2020). Source: ITU.

However, like many developing economies, this growth has been predominantly seen in urban areas. Dhaka and Chattogram, which have established Internet infrastructure and a higher percentage of low-medium-income workers, have the highest Internet penetration rates than largely rural districts such as Rangpur and Rajshahi.

Map of Bangladesh showing the different districts and the Internet penetration in each.
Figure 2 — Percentage of Internet users per district. Source: Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

Infrastructure aside, for many, the economic cost of using the Internet is impossible, rendering access to the digital realm a distant dream. This discrepancy stifles growth, limits educational avenues, and restrains economic prospects for millions.

View Bangladesh Pulse Country Report

Bridging Divide Isn’t Just About Internet Access

With the help of the APNIC Foundation and Microsoft, Janata Wifi has been working to solve this economic barrier by offering Internet access via WiFi hotspots in rural districts in exchange for brief ad views. While we’ve succeeded in connecting more people to the Internet, we’ve realized that cost is still only one part of the problem.

Technical glitches, power outages, and the need for more skilled support have hindered progress. Overcoming these obstacles has required us to look for creative solutions, including power backups, more intelligent network monitoring, and AI-driven support systems.

Another challenge we will continue to face is the ethical quandary surrounding user data and advertising revenue. To address this, the company is adopting:

  • Transparency and Consent: Companies must clearly explain data usage to users and get their explicit consent before collecting or using their information.
  • Data Anonymization and Security: Robust measures should be in place to protect and anonymize user data, ensuring it’s secure and used only for intended purposes.
  • Ethical Ad Targeting: Advertising practices should prioritize relevance without compromising user privacy, using aggregated data instead of individual information.

Watch Seum’s presentation at RIPE 87 on how Janata WiFi is working to overcome the challenges.

Bangladesh’s digital divide reflects intertwined economic disparities. Yet, it offers a unique chance to transform access, empower the marginalized, and drive the nation toward a future where digital boundaries vanish, offering boundless opportunities for everyone.

These challenges aren’t confined to Bangladesh; similar disparities exist globally in many developing or underdeveloped nations. Bridging this divide isn’t just about Internet access; it’s about creating previously impossible opportunities.

Sheikh MD Seum is a Senior Network & System Architect Engineer at Janata Wifi.