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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 09:34 GMT 10:34 UK
Net reaches Bangladeshi villages
Internet centre in Mirzapur
The centre offers training in computer skills

Next to a muddy road two hours from Dhaka, a plain-looking building is giving villagers in Mirzapur a taster of the future.

In a small back room are eight computers hooked up to the internet, offering low-cost web access.

The centre is one of two set up by the Bangladeshi non-governmental organisation, the Grameen Trust, to take the digital revolution into the countryside.

"Our vision is to provide an information technology service to local people who don't know about computers," said the telecentre manager, Mohammad Alamgir Hossain.

Wireless net

The centre was set up a year ago to provide low-cost training in computer skills such as word-processing and graphics and design to villagers.

Female student
Students use the net for research
Grameen also aims to cut the cost of bringing the internet to rural areas. The centre uses a wireless link to connect to the internet, via Grameen headquarters in Dhaka, rather than over a phone landline.

Dial-up connections in Bangladesh are expensive and unstable, with slow connection speeds and frequent interruptions.

In order to encourage local businesses and groups to go online, the Mirzapur centre also acts as a low cost local internet service provider.

So far two local bodies, a hospital trust and a girls' secondary school have signed up, paying only a nominal amount.

But the cost of keeping the telecentre going could be a problem. Grameen is concerned about the long-term viability of the project.

Officials admit that they are finding it very difficult to sustain these projects with local resources.

"It is a bit ambitious," said Partha Pratim Sarker, founder of the technology website, Bytes For All.

"Often telecentres like this can be expensive to run and this is one of the reasons why some of these projects are not successful."

Keeping in touch

Despite these problems, Grameen believes projects like this can help reduce the isolation of rural areas, using the internet to connect them to the capital and further afield.


Most of the people come with something to compose, a letter or a picture to scan

Mohammad Alamgir Hossain, telecentre manager
A letter can take a week to reach Dhaka. It takes even longer for mail to reach international destinations, sometimes up to a month.

As Bangladesh has a large immigrant population, with many working in the Gulf and elsewhere, fast communications can make a big difference.

Using the Mirzapur centre, villagers can get in touch with family and friends in seconds for a fraction of the cost of an international phone call.

Student appeal

Even illiterate villagers are encouraged to use the service. Some people come in with just an e-mail address, not knowing how to use e-mail.

Hand on mouse
The world is just a click away
"Most of the people come with something to compose, a letter or a picture to scan. If people don't know English, we will translate the letter and send it to the e-mail address," said Mr Hossain.

"The response of the public is promising."

The centre is popular with students, as it offers a cheap way of browsing the web, sending e-mails or chatting with friends.

"We are so lucky to have a digital centre like this," said one student as he looked up the latest cricket scores on the BBC sports site.

"The world is very big, but the internet makes the world small. There is no other opportunity for me to use a computer, this is the only place."

The Mirzapur centre is part of Grameen Communication's Village Computer and Internet Programme.


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16 Aug 02 | Country profiles
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