Internet Extends Reach of Bangladeshi Villagers
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Villages in one of the world’s poorest countries, long isolated by distance and deprivation, are getting their first Internet access, all connected over cellphones. And in the process, millions of people who have no land-line telephones, and often lack electricity and running water, in recent months have gained access to services considered basic in richer countries: weather reports, e-mail, even a doctor’s second opinion.
Cellphones have become a new bridge across the digital divide between the world’s rich and poor, as innovators use the explosive growth of cellphone networks to connect people to the Internet.
Bangladesh now has about 16 million cellphone subscribers — and 2 million new users each month — compared with just 1 million land-line phones to serve a population of nearly 150 million people.
Since February, Internet centers have opened in well over 100 Bangladeshi villages, and a total of 500 are scheduled to be open by the end of the year. All of them are in places where there are no land lines and the connections will be made exclusively over cellphone networks.
Before February, analysts said, only 370,000 Bangladeshis had access to the Internet. But now millions of villagers have access to information and services that had been available only by walking or taking long and expensive bus rides, or were beyond their reach altogether.
People now download job applications and music, see school exam results, check news and crop prices, make inexpensive Internet phone calls or use Web cameras to see relatives. Students from villages with few books now have access to online dictionaries and encyclopedias.
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