Pakistan Has to Invest Heavily on its Digital Infrastructure to Remain in the Race

During a press conference in Lahore earlier this year, to protest against internet taxes, I tried to convince our fellow media men that Pakistan’s economy could potentially lose at least Rs. 200 billion in next five years if internet taxes are’t reversed. Almost all journalists thought that I was just deceiving them and throwing a shabby and exaggerated figure to win an argument in favor of removal of internet taxes.

Its a fact that I didn’t have any authenticated research or verifiable statistics then to back my claim, but despite explaining them that this figure was obtained after reverse engineering of an earlier research report from a UK based firm that had estimated that internet uptake in Pakistan could get the economy a potential benefit of up to Rs. 1,000 billion, journalists didn’t believe the number and considered me a wronger.

Today, all those journalists and others who then thought that I was wrong, can go and watch Indian Prime Minister’s Townhall Q/A session with Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook Headquarters and see how India is selling itself with the brand name of “Digital India”.

While others are investing heavily on digital infrastructure, Pakistani policy makers are impacting it negatively by taxing the internet

For those who don’t know, “Digital India” is a government initiative that aims at connecting all 250,000 panchayats (local bodies, like our Union Councils) with National Fiber Optic Network to bring more than 800 million unconnected population to internet.

Not to be mentioned, Indian’s National Fiber Optic Network project was started back in 2011 and is funded with $3 billion from their USF (Universal Service Fund). Moreover, this project was started in India after getting inspiration from USF Pakistan’s Fiber Optic Program that aimed at connecting all Tehsil HQs of the country and ultimately the Union Councils.

Regardless of the fact that Indian’s NFON isn’t the best optimized of the projects and is suffering huge delays, considering the magnitude of the country, once finished, it is going to be a massive network for their 1.25 billion population who would be capable of leading the next generation of internet economy.

USF Pakistan has more than $750 million in its accounts doing nothing

This shows that internet connectivity is so crucial in this age that economies around the world are investing heavily on digital infrastructure, but unfortunately Pakistani policy makers are not only ignoring the potential but in fact are impacting it negatively by taxing the internet.

We just recently discussed that how internet uptake can change the shape of Pakistan’s economy in matter of just few years, it is disheartening to note that Pakistan made almost no investments in last five years on digital infrastructure.

If our government thinks that 3G and 4G technologies are enough to fill the gap and auctioning spectrum and getting billions of dollars in return is all that their responsibility is then they are hugely wrong here.

While private operators have been doing an enormous job in rolling out next-gen networks, government has failed to offer them the required support they need to increase the internet uptake, especially in rural and far-flung areas of the country.

A long-term strategy, a clear policy on taxes, back haul fiber optic infrastructure and an ecosystem is what government has to build if it wants to take Pakistan’s economy to the next level

A long-term strategy, a clear policy on taxes, back haul fiber optic infrastructure till the Union Council level and an ecosystem — such as awareness campaigns, cyber laws, integrated payment gateways etc.  — is what government has to build if it really wants to take Pakistan’s economy to the next level.

A good place to start with can be to task USF to increase the pace of its Fiber Optic Program for connecting Tehsil HQs across the country, and then the union councils. Setting a timeline and meeting the deadlines will only help.

Freelancer

Pakistan already ranks at number five for number of freelancers in the world. This can be grown several times if reliable internet through fiber optic is stretched to rural and far flung areas

These Union Council level hubs or fiber optic nodes could then be used to setup and lease small scale ISPs to locals (through bidding maybe) that will not only bring recurring revenues for the government but will tremendously help grow the the internet penetration.

Once completed, you can expect hundreds of thousands of freelancers, technicians, home-based companies surfacing from across Pakistan and doing amazing stuff that is yet not possible.

Regulations for internet, renewal of expired policies and implementation of SOPs for QoS and various other vectors should be another priority for the government.

Investment on educating the masses with potential of internet will be crucial. This will not only help them use the internet effectively but will help them avoid many misadventures of internet; lottery scams, identify theft, internet bullying, privacy nightmares to name a few.

Internet_Pakistan

Just enabling the masses with internet, more than half of whom are illiterate, won’t help much. We will have to teach them how to use internet in a better and productive manner

A huge chunk of investment for internet education, in a well planned and systematic manner, is a must. Rewarding internet users — with free internet that they use for certain duration maybe — after they pass online exams will probably help. Proper road map can be developed through extended consultation from experts from this field and I am sure there are economical ways of  awaring the masses and making sure that they are officially trained for making their lives of the internet. This will not help them individually but will elevate our national economy to levels beyond our imaginations.

As we have said before, Internet can become the largest revenue generating sector for Pakistan’s economy. But there are some prerequisites and Pakistan government must act and act fast to capitalize what internet has to offer.

 

Tech reporter with over 10 years of experience, founder of ProPakistani.PK


  • The estimated loss of taxing the internet is huge.Punjab goverment is doing good work in digitalizing various government sectors but that needs to replicate throughout the country. There is an ecommerce boom but lack of payment gateways due high entry barriers imposed by goverment and SBP is holding it back .
    Just look how Indian PM took the oppurtunity on US visit and sold the concept of digital india to sillicon valley’s big wigs and got immidiate response with the setup of $150 million fund from Qualcomm ventures for indian startups.
    Our leaders need to learn fast and act fast.

  • @aamir do you think they can understand!!! Please step out of dreaming. It not a fault of Politicians it a fault of Bureaucracy, its a fault of these so called educated journalists (with a huge probability of no brain). Either they didn’t want to plain future or didn’t have Ability to do so.

  • While PM India is meeting Mark Zuckerburg and promoting “Digital India” which aims to connect 250,000 tehsils with fibre optic internet, our government is busy taxing the internet and blocking YouTube. While 25 Mbps is the norm in the world, we have 1 mbps as the norm. We need better infrastructure and more internet affordability. Technology is the future and its time we embrace it. The government thinks 3G 4G is enough; well that would have been 10 years back. Today, if we are to succeed in the technological world we need better internet, payment gateways and favourable laws for foreign investment. ‪#‎DigitalPakistan‬

  • Giving away laptops than put tax on internet so those who got laptops can not go online that’s logic of our leaders, i was already paying 4500 PKR for 2mbps connection here in Azad Kashmir now i have to pay 630 PKR tax on it as well , Thanks to Pakistan Gov’t

        • but for 1 mbps that’s a lot….and how much data? unlimited?

          in my opinion….speed should be no less than 25 mbps and unlimited data….or maybe they can drop the speed to 10 mbps after 50 GB data usage…..all this should cost no more than Rs 700-750 per month for the consumers

          internet is a basic right in the 21st crntury and should be affordable to all

  • yar is tarhan ki posts ko viral kro take government pe kuch effect ho, pakistan internet mein bohat peche hai !

  • i am dreaming for a day ,when we do grocery shopping over my mobile application and deliver to my doorstep ,just like tesco in UK.. Moreover to make it successful and trustworthy ,special legislation/laws to be developed to protect customers from possible frauds over quality or delivery or payment issues etc by merchants

    • I dont do it using an app but I make a call to the supermarket in my town and they deliver groceries and other stuffs to my home…..free home delivery

  • Kitni achi achi baatein likhi hain Amir bhai ne, but guys, Government is in Government to make money for themselves, not to brighten the future or boost the economy of Pakistan, so expect them to do cra*py things only that will make them money, lots & lots of money. People like us can only dream to become a great nation like others, as long as the rest of our nation is in deep sleep.

  • There are many more productive things to invest for Government than internet e.g. hospitals, colleges, education sector, social benefits for people, low cost food, infrastructure etc. etc. internet is NOT everything.

  • pakistan ko SIRF internet hi nahi chaiye… balkay achay hospital, colleges, universities, infrastructure, corruption free society, low cost food for poor, good social benefits chaiye…. internet is NOT everything guys..

  • .Pakistan laid more than 20,000 km OFC in 2006-7 and another in 8ooo km in 2008 where with present technology more than 20 billion people can talk. After 3 years this capacity will increase to 80 billion people. India started laying OFC during 2011 with a cost of 3 b $ and her network is still not perfect. In Pakistan , mobile density is more than India i.e. 75 for Pakistan and 73 for India. 65 % Indian do not own a mobile phone and in 2012, 30 million Indians cancelled their sims because they could not afford. India is still far away in mobile communication as they are trying to have one sim one country. A customer needs to have many sims if he wants to talk to different states. Pakistan is on the rise. Chest up.


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