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What are the costs to Pakistan of not having wireless data networks?

One of the most interesting things that happened within government in Sri Lanka with regard to electricity policy was that they started asking a different question. Instead of asking only the question”how much does the proposed electricity generating option cost” they started asking the question “what are the costs to the economy of load shedding.” The end result of this shift in thinking is that Sri Lanka in the only South Asian country (other than Bhutan and possibly the Maldives) that can assure its citizens and industries more or less 24/7 power. Power in Sri Lanka is a lot more expensive than in the region, but our companies and people do not have to invest in generators, inverters and various other back up mechanisms.

It seems that the government of Pakistan should also start asking a different question with regard to 3G and 4G frequencies: “what are the costs to Pakistan of not having wireless data networks,” not “what is the one-time revenue boost the government will get from an auction.”

But officials say there has been scant interest in Monday’s bidding process and estimate Pakistan will raise no more than $850 million.

“The finance minister (Ishaq Dar) is very angry, so much so that he wants to call off the auction if we are so embarrassingly off target,” said an official on his team, who declined to be identified as he is not authorised to speak officially on the matter.

“This has happened because of an over enthusiastic IT ministry which oversold an undercooked plan to its fiscal managers. It looks like heads may roll on this one.”

Pakistan is the only major country in the region that still does not offer 3G services. Its neighbour, war-ravaged Afghanistan, switched to 3G services in 2012.

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