One principle LIRNEasia defended consistently over the discussions at UN ESCAP about the Asia Pacific Information Superhighway (APIS) was that of open access. And despite many entreaties we held firm that the fiber had to owned by any entity other than the incumbent telecom operator in the country passed by the APIS fiber.
From the time we conducted the Afghanistan sector performance review in 2011-12, I’ve been waiting for reports on the fiber investment paying off. But all that it appears to have yielded are vacuous presentations at international organizations. I hope that President Ghani will remove the fiber network from the dog-in-the-manger incumbent Afghan Telecom and allow the entire economy to benefit from the USD 130 million investment.
Dziggel, who was advising the Afghan government from the start, is right, fiber is the magic element. But you do not allow a decrepit government incumbent to monopolize the magic element.
The challenges are also compounded by the government monopoly of the country’s fiber optic network. Telecom companies must rely on their own satellite links and buy capacity on the network to provide data to customers. But it is expensive and not a reliable source because of frequent cuts in service.
Cellular companies are working with the president’s office to wrest control of the fiber optic network from the state-run operator, which has been criticized for its poor management, capricious rate-setting and poor quality, according to operators.
The companies reached an agreement with the telecoms ministry that would allow them to share the network and lay down their own cables. The country’s economic council has approved the agreement, and the president is expected to sign off on the plan to carry it out. By summer, operators should be able to start work, said Mohammad Qayoumi, the president’s chief technology adviser.
The changes hold the promise of cheaper and expanded access to the Internet, as well as increased revenue for the country. Government officials hope a bigger network will allow Afghanistan to become something of a digital hub, linking traffic from the Far East and its own neighbors and allowing the country to levy more taxes. Iraq earns over $1 billion from such taxes, and Afghan officials expect they can do the same.
Oliver Dziggel, a senior telecom consultant to the American and Afghan governments who has worked on the agreement, said, “Fiber is the magic element that makes it all happen.”