Industry experts contest BBS survey result on telecom

About 92.50 percent of the people in Bangladesh are using mobile phones, indicating the breakneck speed at which the country is nearing the Digital Bangladesh goals.

Some 95.90 percent of the people in urban areas are using mobile phones and 91.20 percent in rural areas, according to the Household Income and Expenditure Survey 2016, which was published last week by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics.

However, only 7.74 percent of Bangladesh’s 16.3 crore-strong population have email accounts — the most basic way of exchanging messages between people digitally.

The figures have drawn the ire of experts and policymakers, who say the statistics do not reflect the reality given the digital transformation that took place in the country over the last few years.

“Some figures from this bunch are not acceptable,” said Zunaid Ahmed Palak, state minister for ICT, citing the internet and Facebook users’ numbers to disprove the email account figure.

At present, there are about eight crore internet users and more than 2.5 crore people use Facebook in Bangladesh.

“This is an authentic number. So, there is no chance that only 7.74 percent of the population have email accounts,” said Palak.

Previously, Facebook asked for an email address to open an account but in recent years it has allowed registration with just mobile numbers.

The state minister said the BBS had published a similar report last year with misleading figures. For instance, in that report the BBS said only 4.8 percent of the households had access to internet as of 2013.

“This kind of survey can damage the industry,” Palak added.

Mustafa Jabbar, president of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services, echoed the same.

“This survey is not acceptable and is a misrepresentation of the digitisation process.”

“If the industry cannot depend on the BBS, which is the state agency, for the correct information, then the investors will be puzzled.”

Jabbar, also a former president of the Bangladesh Computer Samity, said computer usage has increased but the growth is not too high. Only 3.04 percent of the population use computer, according to the HIES 2016. It was 3.01 percent in 2010. In urban areas, computer usage declined from 8.58 percent in 2010 to 7.29 percent in 2016.

Rezwanul Hoque, immediate past general secretary of the Bangladesh Mobile Phone Importers Association, said the survey results seem highly optimistic.

“If 90 percent of the population are using mobile phones, it indicates more than 15.30 crore people. But there are nine crore handsets in the country,” he added.

As of August, the total active SIM card number was less than 14 crore, according to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission.

“The figures are confusing in some segments,” said Rashad Kabir, managing director of Dream71 Bangladesh Ltd, a leading software-maker of the country.

He said foreign investors depend on BBS statistics. “So, they may be misled. This may also create some challenge in branding the country.”

About criticism from the industry, Md Amir Hossain, director-general of the BBS, said: “For any survey five percent plus-minus is acceptable.” “We are very serious about the survey and the sample size was also quite large,” he added. This time, 46,080 households were surveyed, up from 12,240 sample households in 2010.

Source: The Daily Star