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Internet Rolls Into Bangladesh Villages On A Bike

In the neighboring village of Saghata, an Info Lady is 16-year-old Tamanna Islam Dipa's connection to social media.

"I don't have any computer, but when the Info Lady comes I use her laptop to chat with my Facebook friends," she said. "We exchange our class notes and sometimes discuss social issues, such as bad effects of child marriage, dowry and sexual abuse of girls."

The Info Ladies also provide a slew of social services â¿¿ some for a fee and others for free.

They sit with teenage girls where they talk about primary health care and taboo subjects like menstrual hygiene, contraception and HIV. They help villagers seeking government services write complaints to authorities under the country's newly-enacted Right to Information Act.

They talk to farmers about the correct use of fertilizer and insecticides. For 10 takas (12 cents) they help students fill college application forms online. They're even trained to test blood pressure and blood sugar levels.

"The Info Ladies are both entrepreneurs and public service providers," Raihan said.

Raihan borrowed the idea from Bangladeshi Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, who in 2004 introduced mobile phones to rural women who had no access to telephones of any kind, by training and sending out scores of "Mobile Ladies" into the countryside.

That hugely successful experiment drew in commercial mobile phone operators. Now more than 92 million people in Bangladesh have cellphone access.

Nearly 60 Info Ladies are working in 19 of Bangladesh's 64 districts. By 2016, Raihan hopes to train 15,000 women.

In July, Bangladesh's central bank agreed to offer interest-free loans to Info Ladies. Distribution of the first phase of loans, totaling 100 million takas ($1.23 million), will begin in December. Raihan said D.Net is also encouraging the large population of Bangladeshi expatriates to send money home to help Info Ladies get started.

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