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Connectivity has now become a fundamental human right, and all governmental initiatives in the ICT arena must take that into account.

These views were shared by Jazz’s Chief Business Officer Ali Naseer, at the ‘Gen D - Nurturing a Digital Pakistan’ event held by The Millennium University College (TMUC) in Islamabad.

"As a country lagging behind its peers, Pakistan cannot implement policy decisions that don’t drive this objective," said Naseer.

Citing the Economist Intelligence Unit’s latest Inclusive Internet Index (3i), he highlighted that Pakistan ranks at 90th place out of 120 countries, the lowest in South Asia.

Ali argued that despite good progress in terms of connectivity and the availability of digital technology in the last few years, Pakistan is still getting left behind.

PTA renews Jazz licence

“Even today, half of Pakistan is offline. This is the reality despite all the gains of the last few years. Unless immediate attention is given to this, Pakistan’s proclaimed ‘digital dividend’ may unfortunately turn in to an unavoidable ‘digital divide’.

“The policy makers deserve credit for taking necessary steps, including the right of way policy, granting industry status to the telecom sector, and reducing WHT and FED on services.

"However, instead of focusing on incremental improvements, we need bold steps to harness the true potential of digitalisation,” he added.

“Globally, the adoption of digital technologies is taking place at such a rapid pace and scale that we simply cannot compete without the right public-private partnerships that implement a holistic digital ecosystem at the grass-root level.”

Giving an example, Ali mentioned that Pakistan only contributes 0.1 percent in the global cloud market, which is bound to remain constant in the years to come.

Number of 3G, 4G users in Pakistan reaches 103.12m: PTA

To break this cycle and speed up the adoption of digital technologies, Naseer stressed the importance of bringing people, who were connected to cellular networks but not using the internet, online.

He urged both the industry and policymakers to make a substantial transition towards a smart society envisioned under the ‘Digital Pakistan’ initiative.

Unless immediate attention is given to this, Pakistan’s proclaimed ‘digital dividend’ may unfortunately turn in to an unavoidable ‘digital divide’: Jazz Chief Business Officer Ali Naseer

“It is highly impractical to expect a digital revolution when a large number of people own and use 2G-only handsets. Out of the 13.05m mobile phones locally manufactured between January and August, 5.48m were 4G compatible smartphones. The government must cut the cord on both the import and local production of 2G phones. Widespread penetration of 4G will boost digital adoption and unlock tremendous socio-economic opportunities for masses,” he mentioned.

Pointing towards the students amongst the audience, Ali emphasised that the youth has a very important role to play in breaking this inertia as well.

“You have the power to change the local digital landscape, to empower millions with the tools required for success. Use technology to create solutions positively impacting society today. Private sector players are more than willing to assist you in realizing your ideas.”

Citing the example of DeafTawk, an online sign language services provider enabling people with hearing impairments, Ali mentioned how the company’s accelerator programme, Jazz xlr8, along with the National Incubation Center helped the startup scale its unique idea into a successful business venture. The startup recently received a grant of $250,000 under the GSMA Innovation Fund for Assistive Tech and plans to scale up the application, building the capacity of its interpreters, in order to reach both national and international audiences.

Naseer ended the discussion by highlighting the importance of pivoting for the young generation.

“There is no such thing as future proof. The world is changing rapidly and constantly. You need to be resilient in various ways and use innovations, networks and collaborations to design a sustainable future. He left the audience with the advice to be “curious and not judgmental.”

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