The Logistics of Progress

It is not enough to be here and learn. I have to be able to apply this knowledge directly toward improving communication problems back home in Bangladesh. I am slowly discovering the scale of the work I have ahead of me. It is not simply going home, looking at mobile coverage areas like they do here and say, “Okay, let’s upgrade these towers, put a few towers here and here, run fiber optic cables here, and then the problem will be solved.” I wish it were, and that the people will rejoice and all will be well.  But if it were that easy, that but then I might not in college right now, studying and learning to be part of a large team of people determined to make things better. Or maybe I would be in school, just closer to home. No way to be sure.

As for my example above, you can’t simply upgrade or add towers because expanding signals only increases the potential reach of mobile signals, and there may not even be anything to work with in some places. We will be starting network capabilities from scratch in more rural parts of Bangladesh. But it needs to be done, so yes there will be the adding of towers. However, then we come to the next problem: many people do not have mobile phones or internet capable computers and other devices—we have only had internet for a decade. And many of them do not have these things not simply because they wouldn’t work but because they do not have the money to purchase items such as these even if they had the capabilities to use them. But say we are able to build up the communications infrastructure and we receive large donations of mobile phones and cheap tablets from other, well-developed countries as they upgrade their own electronics.  We could distribute them, depending on how many we received, to each person, or several responsible people in the area, or install them in “business centers” where everyone would have access to them. We could do this in a way that would be fair and promote progress to all.

However, there is still a problem. People won’t know how to use them.

Some of these electronic devices are remarkably complicated and are intimidating to learn. Others are relatively easy and intuitive. Either way, the potential good we are trying to do can still be wasted. Villagers will need to be shown how to make calls and how to go online. This will take more time, money, and energy. It also causes another issue: we don’t want there to be fraudulent tricksters preying on these novice villagers online. Websites will have to be created with directories: useful telephone numbers and various other pieces of valuable information that can be trusted and fact-checked before given out to the public. And that means talking to villagers and finding out the kinds of information they think they need and the resources they would want to contact.

I do feel that I have an advantage, though. By understanding these kinds of problems that I will be facing, I have time now to try and come up with solutions. That is a great head start.