Bangladesh’s cyber cafés, also known as Internet centers, are closing down one by one because of easy Internet access via mobile phones. According to a study by the Cyber Café Owners Association of Bangladesh (CCOAB), in last five years more than 40 percent of local cyber cafés have shut down, following a sharp decline in customers.
Five years ago, there were 2,000 cyber cafés across the country. Today, that number has dropped to 800. The industry was once a source of jobs and for the past 15 years worth investments totaling Tk 1.5 billion ($19 million) in last 15 years.
What’s changed? Now smartphones are cheaper, and affordable to a wide range of users. Mobile operators offer high-speed Internet service (up to 3.5G) at competitive rates that people can use at home or anywhere else.
Bangladesh’s cyber-café industry picked up in 2006, when the country’s Internet access was boosted with a link to an undersea cable. Businesses grew rapidly—at first in different parts of the capital, and later all over the country. These cafés are now trying to survive by offering additional services such as photocopy, printing, job-application submission, basic computer training, music and cinema downloads, and so on.
According to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (BTRC), the country in March 2015 had 44.6 million Internet users out of which 43.2 million are mobile Internet subscribers.
Mobile phone operators now offer a wide variety of packages including broadband connections that enable clients to connect to the Web easily with a mobile device or a computer. As a result, people have far less need of cyber cafés, except for printing or emergencies.
But few years ago, the situation was different. Cyber cafes were the only option to access high speed internet for different use.
Remembering the times not so long ago, when cybercafés were the only way in Bangladesh to get high-speed Internet access, Sanat Paul Chawdhury writes:
When I was student, mobile Internet was not available like it is today. Dial-up connections were also limited, so we were only relying on university labs and cyber cafés.
In those days, however, Internet speeds were very slow, and people often complained. Chawdhury adds:
At that time, the Internet speed was very slow in cyber cafés. It was 4/5 time slower than today’s mobile Internet speed.
Those days, a lot of people used to go to cyber cafés just to chat online:
I used to go to cyber cafés to browsing the Web in 2006-7. Facebook was not popular those days, but Yahoo Messenger was very trendy for chatting. I frequently entered chat rooms and gossiped with an unknown person. It was so exciting.
Cyber cafés used to charge on an hourly basis. Vagabondreal laments those days:
There weren’t many cyber cafés in Khulna then. We used to go to Doulatpur, near BL college or to New Market. They used to charge 20 tk. (25 cents) per hour. Believe me, that hour just flew by. We used to joke that the café’s management were messing with clocks to make the time run out faster. It’s like we sat in front of the monitor and the time just ran out.
A blogger using the name Adimpurush mentions how he used to skip school to spend time at cyber cafés:
I used to skip school, go to a cyber café, and spend hours and hours there; just voice-chatting away on Yahoo Chat Rooms. Ah, I sure miss those days.
Some nostalgic Internet users, however, will be happy to learn that the Bangladeshi state has announced a five-year plan to bring a cyber café to every village in the country.