Published on Saturday, 21 July 2012 20:19
Many regions don’t have power, Internet access, most Web users in big cities
Myanmar is facing a situation of ‘digital divide’ between urban and rural areas due to a development gap in the country, where many areas have no electricity or Internet access, experts said.
Inequalities between groups, broadly construed in terms of access to, use of, or knowledge of communications technologies have become a noticeable hurdle in Myanmar’s development, they said.
The number of people who have access to modern technologies is relatively lower than that of other regional countries.
Internet has been available in the country since 2000. However, the previous government limited and controlled Internet access through software-based censorship, infrastructure, technical constraints, and laws and regulations with large fines and lengthy prison sentences for violators.
The government also charges high prices to connect to the Internet, and then charges on a per-hour basis once connected.
Myanmar Teleport (formerly Bagan Cybertech), Yatanarpon Teleport, Information Technology Central Services, Red Link Communications, and the state-owned Myanmar Post and Telecommunications (MPT) are major Internet service providers in the country.
Internet cafés are common and most use different software to bypass government proxy servers.
According to the Post and Telecommunications Ministry’s official statistics, as of July 2010 the country had more than 400,000 Internet users (0.8% of the population), with the vast majority of users hailing from the two largest cities, Yangon and Mandalay.
Although 42 cities across the country have access to the Internet, the number of users outside Yangon and Mandalay is just a little over 10,000. Most of the nation’s 40,000 Internet connections are ADSL circuits, followed by dial-up access, satellite terminals and WiMax.
The MPT is trying out its fibre-to-home system in Mandalay, and plans to carry out a similar trial in Yangon.
“Young people in rural areas are very interested in information technology, but there are very few computer training centres in rural areas,” said Ko Nay Phone Latt, executive director of Myanmar ICT for Development Organisation (MIDO).
Vice executive director Ko Nyi Nyi said that although young people in rural areas are enthusiastic about computer knowledge, they are not as familiar with computer terms as people are in the cities. “We also noticed ‘digital divide’ between rural areas and cities,” he said.
The cost to set up an Internet connection was relatively high – between 400,000 and 500,000 kyat (Bt14,500-Bt18,200) per account.
Myanmar Computer Federation (MCF) president U Thein Oo said mobile phones were the most appropriate tool for IT development in rural areas.
This was practised in foreign countries like the Philippines and Kenya.
“It will take a long time to set up fibre-cable lines. People in rural areas need information and international knowledge about their agricultural produce,” he said.
Wider use of mobile phones and Internet access in rural areas could narrow the digital-divide gap, said MCF vice president Daw Nwe Nwe Win.
The number of mobile phone users was growing but it was relatively low compared to other countries in the region. The government planned to increase the number of cellphone users by 50 per cent by 2015. Out of a population of 60 million, about 96 per cent have not been able to use mobile phones yet.
The cost for each SIM card is US$200 (Bt6,350), and most Internet users are only in cities.
The major problem for Internet services in Myanmar was the speed. Web connection is at snail’s pace, said Ko Nay Phone Latt of MIDO.
“Another difficulty is the lack of electricity in villages. The government should develop these infrastructures,” he added.
“Development in a certain area depends on the communication with other regions, especially in Internet connection. If communication between the cities and rural areas is no good, there would be a big gap between them. Only when rural people understand the advantages of information technologies, would they use them effectively,” he said.
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