The government initiated the "Digital Sylhet City" project in 2018 to transform Sylhet into the first digitalised city with a wide range of technological facilities such as free Internet access, automated systems in crucial institutions and Internet protocol (IP) cameras in busy areas.
But, the much-hyped project has fallen flat even before its completion; free WiFi service remains inactive and the majority of the IP cameras are not functional.
Besides, the automation process of the Sylhet MAG Osmani Medical College Hospital and other institutions is yet to start although it was initially planned to be completed by June 2019.
The tenure of the Tk30.2 crore project, being implemented by the Bangladesh Computer Council (BCC) under the supervision of the Information and Communication Technology Division, was extended several times to June this year (2022).
"We looked after the WiFi service and the IP cameras for a year on a trial basis after installation," said Moniruzzaman Tonu, consultant of the BCC. "Later, we handed over those to the city corporation and metropolitan police respectively. They are now the authorities to oversee the systems," he told The Business Standard.
According to the project officials, the BCC installed 126 WiFi access points in 62 busy areas in 2020. Some 500 users could access the Internet from an access point at a time, while some 100 received high-speed data. The average speed in the 100-metre area of the access point was 10 megabytes per second.
The BCC handed over the public wife zones to the Sylhet City Corporation in March 2021. However, the free WiFi was made inactive early this year.
Visiting several zones including Ambarkhana, Bandar Bazar, Zinda Bazar, devices were found able to connect to the WiFi access points but could not browse the Internet.
"We earlier could use free Internet through the WiFi access points. But it has not been available for the past two months," said Khademul Islam, a businessman at Zindabazar.
Echoing Khademul, several other local people also said all the WiFi access points are inactive now. They also complained that the browsing speed had been very slow from the beginning.
Meanwhile, the city corporation said they were failing to provide the free WiFi service due to a fund crisis.
"The responsibility of the WiFi service was handed over to us but we have no funds allocated for it, which is why we stopped the service," said Md Ruhul Alam, executive engineer of the corporation.
To continue the service, the city corporation needed at least Tk7 lakh per month, he told TBS. "Now, we are trying to manage the money as aid from different non-governmental organisations."
Troubled IP cameras
The BCC in technical collaboration with Chinese telecommunication giant Huawei installed 110 IP cameras in different areas including Zinda Bazar, Surma Market, Lama Bazar, Ambarkhana, Shahjalal Mazar Gate, Jail Gate, Subid Bazar, Shahi Eidgah at TK4 crore. Such an initiative was the first of its kind in the country.
Controlling crimes and establishing discipline on roads through identification of human faces and number plates was its key objective. in the city was its primary goal.
A watching room was set up at the Kotwali Police Station to monitor the areas through the cameras.
However, at least 68 of the IP cameras are not working now, according to the Sylhet Metropolitan Police.
"The cameras with a zooming facility around 360 degrees helped us identify offenders on roads. Now, the majority of them are not working," said Azbahar Ali Sheikh, deputy commissioner (north) of the metropolitan police.
He, however, said he was not sure who the authorities were for the cameras.