In a lot of countries, regionally and globally, the digital economy is taking up the lion’s share of a country’s economy. Unfortunately for us, Pakistan hasn’t even figured much in the domain of digital economy yet. This was a point that was raised during a panel discussion at the INet Conference in Islamabad today.
Dr. Ismail Shah, Chairman PTA, agreed that Pakistan (from governmental to the individual levels) hasn’t started using communication and internet technologies to their fullest potential, other than for browsing websites or for usual communications. According to Dr. Shah,”this has to change.”
Dr. Shah said that there are certain initiatives being taken, such as in mobile financial services where Pakistan fares better than other markets, but when it comes to the Federal Government level, or at the Provincial level for that matter, the true realization of digital economy is not there.
Dr. Ismail stated this while responding to a question from the audience present at the panel discussion, with Rajnesh Singh, Regional Bureau Director of Internet Society moderating the discussions.
Other panelists included Matthew Perkins, Economic Affairs Office, ICT & Development Section, UNESCAP and Yoonee Jeong, Research Director, TPRC Corporate, Singapore.
What Constitutes the Digital Economy?
For those who aren’t familiar with the term digital economy, basically it comprises of business activities or economy based on internet and communication technologies including e-commerce, e-education, e-health, e-agriculture, e-banking, e-office or any other sort of transaction done over the internet.
Panelists agreed that sustainable development through ICT is going to shape up only once solid and reliable digital infrastructure is in place, probably through USF or other means.
Salman Ansari, a senior telecom expert present from the audience, shared his thoughts on the matter. He said that internet connectivity in Pakistan needs to be bettered, especially in rural areas that are connected through aging copper media. He also added that there are those un-served or under-served areas that are totally neglected by government and private companies alike, which should also be looked at.
He said that in absence of reliable and comparatively fast internet connectivity, ventures related to e-education or e-health are not viable and hence unsustainable in such areas where they’re needed the most.
Rajnesh Singh, the moderator of the panel discussion, emphasized that Pakistan could tap into Central Asian Markets and become a connectivity hub for the landlocked Central Asian markets that are currently hugely depended on Russia. But, for that, Pakistan has to overcome its local connectivity issues first.
Dr. Ismail Shah, while sharing details on cross-border transit routes, revealed that Pakistan has a bilateral connectivity link with Afghanistan through a landing point at Landi Kotal. However, it’s not used for transit or international bandwidth.
He added that regulations for transit traffic for international connectivity are being incorporated in the upcoming Telecom Policy, after which cross-border transit routes will become operatable.
Parvez Iftikhar, former CEO of USF, who was also among the audience, raised a question. He opined that ‘while everyone in the conference hall has agreed upon establishment of strong digital infrastructure through USF, but what if government isn’t convinced of the viability of this initiative? What if it doesn’t deem such back-haul connectivity projects as worthy? How can the government be convinced to proceed forward? As you would imagine, there was no answer to the question.
Adnan Asdar, CEO of Multinet, while sharing his opinion, said that Pakistan must overcome energy issues if it really wanted to excel in its digital economy. He went ahead to propose that USF’s money could be used to generate electricity.
“USF has done much, it has taken fiber optic to remotest location of the country and I agree that it could do more, but even if you spend the entire fund in USF’s accounts on laying back-haul and if there’s no electricity, then there’s literally no point about it”, added Mr. Asdar.
Panelists concluded the discussion by agreeing that there is a dire need to spread awareness amongst the masses about the positive and productive usage of ICT to ensure that internet access is utilized profitably and to bring social benefits for masses.