What Anusha Rehman should do for Information and Communication Technology

Published: June 11, 2013
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It is a pity that even Afghanistan has 3G and we don’t! Worldwide there are more than two billion 3G subscriptions - more than 70 million in India. DESIGN: JAMAL KHURSHID

PML-N has done well to appoint Anusha Rehman as the new IT minister. She has already been part of the national Information and Communication Technology (ICT) domain and what a marvelous opportunity she is looking at now – an opportunity to create thousands of jobs, help provide education, health and other government services at the doorsteps of millions of Pakistanis, increase software and services related exports by tens of millions of dollars, and generally catapult Pakistan to the 21st century!

As an ICT professional, with 35 years in the field, I venture to say what the government should now do with regards to the following;

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) policies

ICT is a fast moving high-tech sector where policies get outdated very fast anyway and in Pakistan, it has been a decade. The government should take up the job of creating new ICT policies urgently with input from all stakeholders. However, I do feel strongly, that in the meantime, there is no need to wait for the policies to be in place before starting the long delayed vital ICT development programs.

National broadband plan

This may or may not be a part of the ICT policy, but broadband deserves special treatment. The impact of broadband on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is now widely acknowledged. Since 2010, the UN Broadband Commission for Digital Development has been actively helping countries prioritise the roll-out of high-speed broadband networks through National Broadband Plans, to support their goals of inclusive economic growth and competitiveness in the information age. More than 100 countries across the world have already formulated Broadband Plans.

Optic Fiber Penetration

Optic Fiber Highways are like the road highways of the yesteryears. Most of the countries have realised this and are working feverishly to increase fiber penetration (Indonesian ‘Palappa Ring’, Nigeria’s ‘Btrain’, Australia’s National Broadband Network, India’s Bharat Broadband, etc).

When I was at the Universal Service Fund (USF), we made good progress in the program; “Optic Fiber to every Tehsil”. Now the need is to extend the Fiber to all the 6,000-plus union councils, terminating at the Community Telecenters there. Even in the short-term, thousands of jobs will get created.

Community Telecenters

High-speed broadband connected centers could become the source of all kinds of information for the villagers. Each center, equipped not only with PCs and allied equipment but also WiFi hotspots and renewable sources of power, should be run and managed by rural development organisations that have roots in those areas with professionally trained trainers and relevant local content.

The broadband connectivity available at these centers could then be extended to neighbouring schools, healthcare centres, post offices and government offices etcetera – the so-called “anchor customers”.

Broadband for schools

Out of all the destinations of broadband, none is more important than schools. ICT is all-encompassing as it impacts every sector of the economy. Therefore if our new generation does not grow up with knowledge of using ICTs, they will be nowhere. But one has learned that connecting schools with broadband is not all. One needs to have the provincial education and school administrations on board, develop/provide relevant local content (with links to the curriculum), create portals, implement child protection policies, and train the teachers.

In fact train, train and train.

3G and 4G

It is a pity that even Afghanistan has 3G and we don’t!

Worldwide there are more than two billion 3G subscriptions – more than 70 million in India. The PML-N manifesto favours 4G (100 million worldwide), however mostly the spectrum licenses are technology-neutral. It is the private sector that then goes for the most viable technology in the given spectrum band. But there is simultaneous space for 3G as well as 4G. Therefore spectrum for both should be auctioned, with less emphasis on the price and more on wide-spread, time-bound roll-out obligations.

Role of the Private Sector

Fortunately in ICTs, budget constraints of the government are no worry. But the government has to provide clear policies, fair regulations, level playing field, to promote competition and let the citizens enjoy the fruits.

If at all the government has to intervene with is cash, it is in areas which the private sector doesn’t find lucrative enough. And for that there is the Universal Service Fund! It is the private sector which brought the 2G revolution to Pakistan (along with massive amounts of Foreign Direct Investments) and it is the private sector which should be given the challenge again.

To the private sector, all I have to say is that, with a stable government in place, manned by competent people at the top, it should have no hesitation in contributing it’s share in a big way.

Follow Parvez on Twitter @Parvez_Iftikhar

Parvez Iftikhar

Parvez Iftikhar

Former CEO of the Universal Service Fund (Pakistan), he works as an Information and Communication Technology Consultant in various countries in Asia and Africa on ICT regulatory issues. Before USF he was country-head of Siemens Telecom in Pakistan. He tweets @Parvez_Iftikhar twitter.com/Parvez_Iftikhar

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Khurram Awan

    I think rather than talking about 3G Infrastructure PMLN government must issue licences for LTE ( Long Term Evolution ) that encompass 3G, 4G and even beyond. Also for far off places of KP, Punjab, Balochistan, Sindh and Kashmir we need a Satellite based broadband infrastructure like ASTRA2Connect ( SES Broadband Europe ) and government must issue funding to SUPARCO to develop telecommunications satellites to have cost cutting by indigenous development.

    Also Pakistan really needs Digital Television systems ( DTS ) and this incumbent government must instantly provide a guideline to have Digital Video Broadcasting ( DVB ) Standards for Handheld, Terrestrial, Satellite and Cable technologies to be implemented in the the near future in our Country.Recommend

  • http://yahoo Asif

    Sir, a good article but no mention of the need for a Cyber Crime law. I am somewhat surprised by this oversight. That must be up there in the top three priorities. As the internet usage increases computer crime will also go up and our economy will suffer. Millions of rupees will be lost. With Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites on the increase we also have to ensure there is a responsible use and criminal prosecutions if not. Cyber terrorism, incitement, pornography, blasphemy and international offences could also be considered. Then collective training for cyber crime units and commercial companies can be developed to ensure the watchdogs are just a click away from stopping such criminality or at least evidencing it.Recommend

  • Saima Yusuf

    Threatens to ban Gooogle. What a start. As a lawyer, may be should try to first banning honor killings. This would indeed raise the status of Pakistani muslims in the world.Recommend

  • Sahar Khan

    Totally senseless, when you know what Anusha Rehman has recently said about banning google. She first needs to learn to make a correct statement then she can pursue what the author has wrote and pointed towards. What she wants, ” we should hold “Takhtiyaan” in our hands? Recommend

  • dou

    @Asif: I dont think cyber crime is what you think it is. You must mean internet moral policing by what you are trying to imply. At the heart of all technological advancement is the philosophy of free access to information and if Pakistanis continue to disregard it, sadly we will always stay where we are no matter how many fancy tech jargons we can understand and use.Recommend

  • Shah (Berlin)

    Sir nice article but she is busy banning google….i hope tht she reads this blog…chances are pretty slimRecommend

  • Tanzeel

    even if she ‘Anusha Rehman’ reads this blog, she’ll have no idea how to make head or tail out of it. They only word she’ll catch will be ‘cyber’ and I am sure she will get the ‘other’ meaning out of it..Recommend

  • Gratgy

    Well! She did threaten to ban Google in Pakistan. Maybe Pakistan can start using the deeper than ocean, taller than mountain search engines too!Recommend

  • hamza

    do something about the electricity rather then talking about 3g. without that u have nothingRecommend

  • Pakistani-Khi

    Dear Ms. ICT Miniter,

    What if Electronic voting system to be prioritized while simultaneously with other projects?

    Our rivals have it implemented. When we so called high standard nation implement and promote these digital operations ?? It is one of the most-important ministry for Pakistan up gradation, Take it seriously!Recommend

  • Ali Yaqoob

    I have not read the whole blog but you forgot copyright issues that should be top focus for ICT Minister!Recommend

  • gp65

    You have a lot of expectations from a woman who has created waves (and not in a good way) by upping the ante further on the youtube issue by threatening to ban google as well. http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-57588646-93/google-to-be-banned-in-pakistan-if-it-doesnt-clean-up-youtube/

    Overrating your own importance and underrating the counterparty’s options/reactions has been an ongoing trait that has not served Pakistan well. It is clear that it continues.Recommend

  • A. Khan

    Does the article author get to moderate the comments section ? It would appear so because anything critical is deleted and sarcasm is simply not tolerated. We as a nation should learn to accept criticism and possibly use it to change and amend our ways. Unfortunately, we tend to take criticism too personally and become defensive.

    I don’t expect to see this comment posted either but it is meant for the moderator. As you might have guessed my earlier post and I was one of the first ones, there were no other comments at the time, severely criticized what the author was suggesting.Recommend

  • Durbullah

    ban internet:)Recommend

  • http://www.piftikhar.com Parvez Iftikhar

    @A. Khan: I am the author and trust me I have not “moderated” any comments. But if someone has done it, there must’ve been some reason. I am open to criticism and in fact would like to see what anyone could have against such well-meaning stuff. I concede that I may be completely wrong in my thinking. If you have nothing against it, could you mail your criticism directly to me ([email protected]) and let me respond?Recommend

  • http://www.piftikhar.com Parvez Iftikhar

    @Khurram Awan:
    That’s why I have stated in the blog: “…spectrum licenses are technology-neutral. It is the private sector that then goes for the most viable technology in the given spectrum band. But there is simultaneous space for 3G as well as 4G. Therefore spectrum for both should be auctioned”.Recommend

  • http://www.piftikhar.com Parvez Iftikhar

    @Asif:
    I agree. Cybercrime law is very important.Recommend

  • http://www.piftikhar.com Parvez Iftikhar

    @hamza: You cant wait to resolve one crisis before starting to work on other development programs, especially when we are already behind others. Yes, energy should be government’s first priority but IT Ministry should not sit and wait in the meanwhile. More so when ICT development can actually help to solve the energy crises – for example you must’ve heard of “smart grid” for efficient distribution of electricity. Recommend