Pakistan Archives — Page 2 of 12


I was reading the 2014 Annual Report of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, where on page 37 the PTA reports that international calls being terminated on Pakistani mobile networks has decreased dramatically since 2011-12, from 10.8 billion minutes to 5.6 billion minutes in 2013-14. The PTA even says that “one view is that this is due to the introduction of the International Clearing House (ICH).” But no reaching of the obvious conclusion: abolish the ICH and stop playing ineffective cartel manager.
I did not know how bad things were in Pakistan until I read this essay by my friend Parvez Iftikhar, the greatest universal service fund evangelist there is. Coming to home, the level of utilization of USF funds in Pakistan, at this time, is actually worse. According to a careful estimate, since 2006 an equivalent of US$ One Billion has been collected (including the interest earned on the collections) – excluding those millions that were collected by PTA in the initial years and deposited directly with the government. Out of this One Billion, US$ 160 Million has been disbursed to the telcos. Another US$ 110 Million is committed in signed contracts of on-going projects, and is lying with the Government of Pakistan.
The Government of Pakistan has ordered an expensive re-verification process of all mobile SIMs in the aftermath of the Peshawar Massacre. Aslam Hayat, a LIRNEasia alumnus now with Telenor Pakistan, has pointed out that the root cause is being ignored: However this does not mean that the system is foolproof, there is possibility that at the retail-end, some of the sellers may violate standard operating procedures (SOPs) for small gains without the support and knowledge of the mobile operators. The big question is why somebody would do this and why there is demand for SIMs on fake subscriptions. Without fear of contradiction, I can say with confidence that no franchisee or a retailer will ever knowingly sell a SIM to a terrorist or a person having intent to commit a heinous crime. The dominant buyer of bulk SIMs is the group of people involved in bringing grey international incoming calls.
The 2014 Measuring the Information Society report is out. No surprises at the top: Denmark is now at 1 and Korea is now 2; just changed places from 2012 ranking. Significant movement from the Gulf countries: UAE goes from 46 to 23 and Qatar from 42 to 34. UAE is almost too difficult to believe. No good news from South Asia, sadly.
There were some implicit references in a recent article in the Bangladesh Daily Star, but this is the first coverage based entirely on the systematic review. Mobile coverage in rural areas makes markets more efficient by matching demand and supply across a larger geographical space, resulting in benefits to consumers as well as producers, says the document, based on a systematic review to isolate the economic impact of mobile phones in rural areas by looking at the most robust quantitative studies available. “It’s a good story that we are sharing globally and not only with Pakistan,” Chair of LIRNEasia Rohan Samarajivo told The Express Tribune via phone from Sri Lanka. Explaining, he said they had reviewed over 8,000 studies on the impact of mobile phone on rural economies. “We have concluded there is a clear evidence that setting up mobile network in areas that didn’t have it previously benefits the economy of these areas.

4G in Pakistan

Posted on September 28, 2014  /  1 Comments

The rollout everyone is waiting for is from Reliance’s Jio Infocomm. The Ambanis tend to change the game. But in the meanwhile, Zong has beaten Warid to announce a seven-city rollout in Pakistan Dr. Fan said that Zong will inject 1 billion dollars in Pakistan over the span of three to four years. He said that his company aims to add 4,000 new cell sites to the network by year end.
I have always been intrigued by the differences between South and South East Asian countries. We saw this over and over again when we did the Teleuse@BOP surveys. But playing around with some numbers for Facebook users in four South and four SE Asian countries, I was astounded. In all the SE Asian countries, there are more Facebook users than there are Internet users. In the case of Myanmar, the multiple is 4.
It started with the infamous “SIM tax” in 2005. Although mobile covers nearly 100% of population and geography, a highly ambiguous Social Obligation Fund (SOF) was created in 2010. Consequently the telecom regulator has been illegally amassing huge wealth since 2011. Now the tax authorities have decided to impose 1% surcharge on mobile usage to “promote rural education.” And for the first time, the taxmen will be collecting a sector-specific toll.
Pakistan observes its independence day on 14th of August. On 13th of August in 2012, the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecom (MoITT) issued a directive to establish “International Clearing House” or ICH. It allowed the international long distance carriers’ cartel to fix call termination rates at their whim. As a result, the hardworking Pakistani migrant workers were punished with excessive charges while calling home. This is how the robber barons of ICH were rewarded with illicit windfall at the eve of Pakistan’s 65th birth day.
I was looking for overall indicators for the Bhutan ICT sector a few years back. The only index that included Bhutan then was the ICT Development Index, published by the ITU. So I am happy that WEF has included Bhutan in the NRI for the first time. And they have placed at 94, ahead of all their S Asian peers other than Sri Lanka and India. Pakistan and Bangladesh on the other hand have slid back by 6 and 5 places, respectively.
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.
Last weekend, talking about policy and regulatory issues will drive Pakistan’s adoption of broadband.  My co-panellists were Faisal Sattar (CEO of Pakistan’s Universal Service Fund), Salman Ansari (former advisor to the Ministry of IT & Telecom in Pakistan) and Kojo Boakye (Policy Manager at the Web Foundation). I was at Pakistan ICTD Workshop organized by newly set up Information Technology University  in Lahore and the Punjab Information Technology Board.  The fact that both organizations are headed by one individual (Umar Saif, PhD and the fact that the Punjab Chief Minister (Shahbaz Shariff, brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Shariff) has taken a personal interest in using ICT-enabled governance has led to some interesting results.  The students and faculty at IT-University are in the wonderful position of having a willing and eager client (in the form of Punjab IT Board) who roll-out and scales up the applications they developed.
Pakistan’s Supreme Court has demanded a legal and constitutional explanation from the Attorney General (AG) for withdrawing around PKR70 billion (US$705 million) from the universal service fund (USF). The USF comes from all mobile operators’ 1.5% of gross revenue. This entire fund is intended to be used to finance the expansion of telecoms services to underserved areas. Pakistan government has, however, forked out money from USF to meet its operating expenses, claiming that the funds would be replaced when and if required.

Anti universal service in Pakistan?

Posted on October 4, 2013  /  0 Comments

We have been working with the Pakistan Telecom Authority, the Pakistan Universal Service Fund and operators to achieve universal service in that country. Universal service means a phone for everyone. But according to this report there are people in Pakistan who will kill barbarically to prevent this goal from being achieved. A young mother of two has been put to death in Pakistan for possessing a cell phone, Opposing Views reported on Thursday. Arifa Bibi was executed three months ago, on July 11, after a Pakistani tribal court sentenced her to death by stoning.
The widespread casualties caused this year by fast moving weather systems in Uttarakhand and in Pakistan have caused experts to call for real-time data sharing among the region’s meteorological departments. This seems to call for increased reliance on ICTs. The monsoon has been erratic in recent years. Last year, the monsoon failed in Sri Lanka, and parts of the country’s northern, eastern and southern regions went through a drought that affected at least 1.2 million people.
I’ve had a running argument with my friends M. Aslam Hayat (one of the creators of the Fund) and Parvez Iftikhar (first CEO of the Fund) about whether it’s possible to have an effective, efficient universal service fund. My position has been that that such a thing can function for a few years, if well designed and with political commitments, but that it’s a matter of time before they go bad. As we used to say when we were designing Sri Lanka’s fund in 2003, when the cheese is out, the rats are inevitable. I have pointed to the successes of the Pakistan Fund in its early years in many of my talks, but I have always qualified the claims being made of its behalf.