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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has great potential to develop information technology sector but inconsistent policies are creating serious hurdles.

This was the consensus among the leading information technology experts at a webinar organised by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) titled, “Internet for all”, here on Wednesday.

It was revealed that Bhutan was the only country in South Asia lagging behind in auctioning the spectrum.

Pakistan has 98 million wireless and two million wireline connections.

Pakistan was auctioning small volume of spectrum and still auctioning of 100 megabytes of spectrum and it should be used timely, if not used, the country will lose significant resources.

Auctioning spectrum is amid at improving quality of the services and developed countries are giving incentives to the IT companies for providing best coverage to the clients.

The panel stressed that the 2021 telecommunication policies should be consistent, taxes for ROW should be decreased.

The Universal Service Fund should be taken in consideration to provide internet for all.

They said that the government was collecting Rs30 as tax from Rs100 spent on mobile services by a consumer, which is the highest in the world, saying that the cellular companies are most efficient tax collectors.

The government instead of focusing on short-term policies must focus on long-term policies, which will help flourish the information technology sector but will also ensure higher returns for the government.

They said that students of all the classes in most parts of the country during Covid-19 pandemic have faced serious problems, while attending the online classes, and to improve the situation, the authorities must auction required volume of spectrum.

The speakers include M Ali Ibrahim, Head of Marketing and Communication, Mobilink Microfinance Bank Limited, Zouhair Khalid, Member of Prime Minister’s Task Force on IT and Telecom, former president and CEO, Mobilink, MD Mobile for Development GSMA along with Pervez Iftikhar, ICT Consultant and Saad Muzaffar Waraich, GCTIO, Operations, PTCL.

The session was moderated by Dr Nadeemul Haque, vice-chancellor, PIDE.

Zouhair Khalid, set the record straight by identifying internet as a necessity and not a luxury. While identifying the issues, he further added that the non-availability of internet took Pakistan at the verge of being handicapped during the initial days of the pandemic.

Zouhair further added that the internet providers need to have a new approach to availability and affordability of the internet.

Pervez Iftikhar expressed that the internet was supposed to be the biggest force in overcoming the class divide in our society, yet It was used to create more divide as it is perceived as a luxury.

Another reason is the non-availability of internet in major sectors of the country.

We are behind India, Bangladesh, and Nepal in almost all of the Telecommunication Index, and the major reason for this situation is that internet wide spread depends on two things, Optical Fiber cable and Spectrum.

Spectrum is released by the government, then operators place bid on it and the highest bidder gets it.

But in Pakistan, only a minimal amount of Spectrum is released that too on floor price and not on biding price, which creates scarcity in the telecom industry thus, resulting in increased spectrum price. Mohammad Ali Ibrahim mentioned that one good thing that came out of this pandemic is the fact that it jolted the digital medium and forced masses to take new routes, which includes distant learning, Online banking etc.

Ibrahim added that the country saw a 30 percent increase in digital payments.

Saad Waraich explained that distant learning, was different for an A class family and completely opposite for a family that is residing in far-flung areas. He also stressed that internet should be treated as a provider and not a generator.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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