There is a need to convert Pakistan from an infrastructure-based to a knowledge-based economy, which can be done by developing localised content and applications for integrated broadband (voice, video, entertainment and data) subscribers, said Pakistan Telecommunication Authority Chairman Mohammad Yaseen.
He was speaking at the 5th Pakistan TeleCON 2012 – an annual meeting of people associated with information and communications technology that discusses issues facing the industry and sets future goals – here on Thursday.
The IT industry is exporting a lot of content, but it also needs to develop localised content, the head of IT and telecom regulatory body said and suggested that the content can be developed on public-private partnership basis.
In order to reap social and economic benefits of ICT, there is a need to convert Pakistan into a knowledge-based economy, he said.
Moving forward, Yaseen said, mobile wireless broadband should be introduced promptly. At least, 20% of population should have broadband, 70% primary schools should be facilitated with broadband internet and integrated broadband subscribers should reach 10 million by the end of financial year 2012-13.
Yaseen’s presentation, which was heavily backed by case studies, ICT data and telecom indicators, was apparently in response to the Global IT Report of the World Economic Forum.
The report ranked Pakistan’s ICT industry 117 out of 144 in terms of usage, reflecting the usage is not there, Yaseen said. “A lot of work needs to be done in this direction.”
The PTA chairman said the ICT sector has worked a lot on infrastructure – 95% of population is connected with fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) network and it is time to decide what they want to do with that heavy duty infrastructure. Even with this little usage, the industry has achieved impressive growth.
Increasing the usage will do wonders for the sector, he expressed the hope while referring to a World Bank study according to which, every 10 points in internet penetration per 100 translates into 1.21% GDP growth.
In day-to-day problems facing the country, Yaseen saw new business and entrepreneurship opportunities for content developers. Education, safety and security, power and gas, water management (flood prevention and irrigation), transport, banking, micro financing and mobile banking all provide content creation opportunities.
Citing the example of education, Yaseen said global school networks use intranet for sharing documents, downloading tutorials and curriculum. Pakistan’s IT sector should create similar content, he said.
In the power sector, Yaseen said, an application can be created to install a SIM in electricity meters to monitor if they are working properly.
Mobile banking is another area which provides opportunities for content development, the chairman said, as branchless banking grew by 43% in July-September 2011 alone, indicating the potential for growth. The current trends strongly indicate the demand for 3G, Yaseen said, as mobile internet users grew by 185% in the last two years while net growth in usage of personal computers remained stagnant.
Talking about tax issues, Yaseen suggested that if two operators share infrastructure they should be taxed separately despite using one tower. Additionally, he pointed out that the telecom industry is heavily taxed, so taxes should be reduced to encourage investment in ICT.
Foreign direct investment (FDI) in telecom dropped significantly from $1,905 million in 2005 to $79 million in 2011. Also, investment by the telecom industry dipped to $496 million in 2011 from $1,472 million in 2005. Once the ICT industry has a knowledge-based economy, Yaseen said, it should then be moving to e-Pakistan, e-government, e-health, e-agriculture, e-commerce, etcetera – through an interrelated federal and provincial government portal.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 20th, 2012.