Published Date: Apr 16, 2014
After 3G/4G Spectrum Auctions – What Next?
In order to make full use of the benefits of dramatically faster and widely available mobile broadband internet as a result of forthcoming 3G/4G auctions, the government should immediately start work on a plan to maximize the benefits of broadband internet across the socio economic divide”. This was the key recommendation that emerged in the 58th meeting of SDPI’s Study Group on Information Technology and Telecommunications held here today. While there is a need for a comprehensive policy in this area, there is no harm with advancement in technology, said Dr. Syed Ismail Shah, Chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). He informed that PTA is in the process of coming up with a plan for the telecom sector, in consultation with all the stakeholders including industry representatives.
While chairing the proceedings of the session, Dr. Ijaz Shafi Gillani, Chairman Gallup Pakistan, highlighted that platforms such as SDPI’s Study Group on IT and Telecom are important in bringing together experts from various fields and deliberate over matters of public interest. He added that Pakistan was able to get access to internet before other countries in the region, indicating the impact and significance of policy messages from such discussion.
Keynote presentations were made by Dr Aamir Matin, a noted IT industry professional, and Parvez Iftikhar, an international consultant on ICTs and former CEO Universal Service Fund.
Dr. Matin drew a comparison between the motorway and the information highway, explaining that the long term benefits of motorways include reducing pressure on the large cities by opening up industrial zones and employment opportunities in newer/smaller towns along the motorways. Reducing the time required for agricultural produce to reach markets is another important impact. However, in the case of Pakistan, the longer term benefits of the Islamabad-Lahore motorway are still to be fully realised, due to lack of a comprehensive plan. On a similar note, with examples, he explained the benefits of eServices that could accrue from faster internet, once the 3G/4G networks are rolled-out. But the full potential will remain unutilized unless a proper plan is prepared and implemented.
Parvez Iftikhar laid out a strategy to implement a broadband plan that would allow e-services in the areas of education, governance, health, agriculture/livestock, etc., to be delivered at citizens’ doorsteps. He explained that these are much bigger tasks than the mere provision of broadband, as the governments themselves will have to become the biggest users of broadband, which will mean gradual re-engineering of governments’ own processes as well. He suggested that apart from the Universal Services Fund and ICT R&D Fund, national and provincial government budgets should also be used for funding, in addition to investments from the private sector.
The meeting concluded with recommendations that following a comprehensive plan, a broadband eco-system should be built, which includes development of relevant content in regional languages, rolling out eServices, raising awareness among citizens through targeted promotions, capacity building of public officials and general public towards ICT, and adoption of ICT-enabled services through shared access points. It was suggested that the Ministry of IT should take the lead in coordinating the national broadband plan, taking along the provincial governments and relevant federal ministries.
For the implementation of such a plan, a large number of multiple stakeholders will need to contribute, which will require patronage and guidance will have to come right from the top.