|Asia-Pacific III 2008
|Pakistan and the Internet
|Dr Mohammad Yaseen
|Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA)
Dr Mohammad Yaseen is the Chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA). He has produced 30 international and national publications on telecom technologies, ICT growth, strategies and design of telecom networks. Dr Yaseen has represented the PTA at various international and national forums, including the Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT), where he was named Vice Chairman of APT Study Group 2 (Networks). Prior to joining the PTA, Dr Yaseen served as: Director of Strategy at PTCL Pakistan; as Senior Consultant for Advanced Networks and Systems, Australia; as a System and Project Engineer, at Alcatel Submarine Networks Australia; and, as a Senior Research Officer at Essex University, England. Dr Mohammad Yaseen graduated from DCET, NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi, Pakistan. He was awarded a Government of Pakistan, Ministry of Science and Technology, Scholarship to complete his PhD with specialization in Telecommunication Systems at the University of Essex, England.
Internet usage in Pakistan is growing, but is still low. The government is encouraging broadband service growth throughout the country and has established a new regulatory framework that better reflects and deals with the challenges that digital technology raises. In addition to changing laws to enable safer transactions on the Internet, Pakistan has promoted a wide variety of measures for e-learning, e-banking, e-governance, e-health, e-crimes and e-commerce that promise to make the Internet an integral part of life in Pakistan.
Today, the Internet and advances in information and communications technology, in general, not only affect the way people communicate, but also affect societies and cultures as a whole. The information age has shattered communications barriers and made the world’s markets more competitive. Internet usage today is rising; according to ITU, the Internet is growing at more than 100 per cent per year. Pakistan has a population of 161 million and in area of 800,000sq.km. It has four administrative provinces, federally administrated tribal and Northern areas and the disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The capital of Pakistan is Islamabad. One third of the people live in urban areas and two-thirds in rural areas. Pakistan’s per capita income is about US$1,085. According to Economic Survey of Pakistan (2007-2008), 55 per cent of people (adult) are illiterate. The Internet in Pakistan In Pakistan, Internet bandwidth consumption grew healthily over the past few years. Four cables connect Pakistan with rest of the world: • SEA-ME-WE – 3 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 3 submarine cable); • SEA-ME-WE – 4 (South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe 4 submarine cable); • FLAG (Fibre-Optic Link Around the Globe); • TWA 1 (Trans World Associates Submarine fibre optic cable system). The SEA-ME-WE 3 cable was a 34-nation project with a total cost of US$1.5 billion. The 39 landing point cable, at 39,000km, is the longest in the world. It has a total capacity of 2.5 /10 Gbps. The SEA-ME-WE 4 has seventeen landing points with sixteen telecom companies and is about 18,800km long. It has a total Capacity of ten Gbps and cost about US$500 million. FLAG, a 28,000km-long cable, is operated by India’s Flag Telecom. PTCL is not a member of FLAG Submarine Cable System. FLAG lands in Karachi and connects to Fujairah via SMW3. The TWA is 1300km long; its total capacity is 1.28 Tbps. Internet penetration and usage Digicom launched the first international Internet service in Pakistan in 1995. The licensing of commercial Internet service providers began in 1996. By mid-1999, approximately 100 organizations had licences to provide Internet services. By mid-2000, the number of Pakistani users had grown to 500 thousand. In 2007, the total number of Internet users reached 3.5 million. Affordable broadband services have recently been introduced in Pakistan. Although broadband has been available for some time, high costs and poor service delayed market growth. There are currently more than 130 thousand broadband subscribers in Pakistan. The growth of the broadband market began with the introduction of DSL services by the incumbent, the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL), itself. The offer of low-priced broadband and free installation quickly attracted more than 33 thousand subscribers. Pakistan has other types of broadband services, including WiMAX, introduced in December 2007, which captured close to ten thousand subscribers in four months. Starting in April 2008, Wateen now provides HFC (hybrid fibre-coaxial) services to more than five thousand subscribers. Overall, with a subscriber base of more than 36 thousand, HFC is the second most-used broadband technology in Pakistan. Internet services in Pakistan e-Learning – e-Learning is education at a distance that uses modern electronic technologies to provide teaching and learning content. e-Learning uses various means of communication, such as the Internet, cell phones, television and radio. In Pakistan e-Learning is offered in more than 700 cities by the government-supported Virtual University of Pakistan. Pakistan’s educational system’s PERN (Pakistan Education and Research Network) project interlinks all public and private sector chartered universities and degree-awarding institutes registered with the Higher Education Commission and the Government of Pakistan. PERN now interconnects 56 universities. Work is in progress to interconnect 59 more campuses within a year. The interconnection of all these universities and institutes will permit the integration of their databases, support collaboration for research and development and help upgrade teaching and learning skills. PERN will also provide an access platform to interconnect universities and educational institutions with the Virtual University. The Government of Pakistan in cooperation with PTCL Research and Development funds is financing the project. The network is designed, operated and maintained by NTC (National Telecommunication Corporation). e-banking – Electronic banking, using ATMs, tele-banking, Internet banking, credit and debit cards is an effective delivery channel for traditional banking products. In Pakistan, foreign banks took the lead by introducing ATMs and credit cards in the mid 1990s, and domestic banks followed in the late 1990s. The delayed entry in electronic banking was largely due to regulatory hurdles, higher start-up costs, on-going banking sector reforms and the lack of technical skills. The Government of Pakistan promoted electronic banking through its promulgation of the Electronic Transaction Ordinance of 2002. This landmark regulatory framework provided legal recognition of digital signatures and documentation reducing the risks associated with the use of electronic media in business. At present, almost all commercial banks in Pakistan have setup their own ATM networks, issue debit and credit cards and have joined one of the two ATM switch networks. Pakistani banks typically provide the following online banking services and products: 1) Inquiries – account statement, balance check statement and fixed deposit inquiry; 2) Payments – fund transfers, credit card payments, direct payments, utility bills payments; 3) Requests – chequebook requests, stop payment orders, demand drafts, new fixed deposit requests; 4) Downloads – customer profiles, statements, other information and guidelines. e-governance – An Electronic Government Directorate (EGD), reporting to the Ministry of Information Technology (M/o IT), was established in 2002 to implement projects related to Pakistan’s Electronic Government Programme (e-Govt). EGD provides technical advice and guidelines for the implementation of e-government projects at the federal, provincial and district levels. EGD also plans and prepares electronic government projects, develops standards for electronic government software and infrastructure, and undertakes any other related assignment at the request of the government. In April 2005, EGD’s e-Government Strategy & 5 Year Plan document was approved by the National E-Government Council (NEGC) and, in June 2005, endorsed by the Federal Cabinet. Following the plan, the government is working to establish e-governance systems in every department; many projects have already been implemented and many are in pipeline. e-health – e-Health programmes are not present everywhere but initiatives have been taken by the Federal Government and Provincial Governments of Punjab and Sindh. The Pakistan-US collaboration in telemedicine has led to the establishment of the first telemedicine/e-health training centre for capacity building in Pakistan. It has trained 45 doctors and nurses in telemedicine. These trained professionals are helping other hospitals, like the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission Hospital, to establish their telemedicine facilities. Moreover, during the 2005 earthquake in Pakistan professionals in the programme established telemedicine centres in affected areas. This service, however, is still in its infancy in Pakistan. The Electronic Government Directorate (EGD) has already established three telemedicine centres in Pakistan. e-crimes – The Government of Pakistan, following its Electronic Crimes Bill, is setting up special tribunals in the Federal Capital and provincial headquarters to investigate e-crimes. The Electronic Crimes Bill classifies and defines the types of e-crimes and sets penalties according to their severity. Other e-crime regulations and measures include: • The Electronic Transactions Ordinance (ETO), promulgated in 2002, facilitates paperless trading, electronic transactions, the exchange of electronic commercial documents and e-banking; • The Prevention of Electronic Crime Ordinance of 2007 defines offences relating to cyber crime, including spamming, cyber stocking, cyber terrorism, data damage, system damage and electronic forgery, and defines related punishments; • The Accreditation Council supervises the Registration Authority and other relevant issues for security, privacy and encryption; and, • The Banking ACT, Customs ACT, Law of Evidence and several hundred other laws were revised to correspond to the challenges posed by digital technology and electronic transactions. e-commerce – The field of electronic commerce is relatively new and its practices are alien to most business enterprises in developing countries. Pakistan has a number of barriers to electronic commerce, including inadequate infrastructure, frequent power failures, relatively few Internet users and lack of security for online transactions. The government is working to overcome these problems and has made some progress. Online auctions, e-Billing, major shops have started to sell of computers and books online. A few banks offer mobile-phone banking and let customers pay utility bills using their mobile phones. The State Bank of Pakistan, Pakistan’s central bank, established Internet merchant accounts for processing financial transactions of Internet vendors in February 2001. However, inadequate infrastructure and security concerns remain and, as late as mid-2006 only Citibank (US) offered these accounts, which are used by airlines, mobile companies, Internet service providers and merchants. Internet services are booming in Pakistan and are becoming an integral part of life in Pakistan. With the advent of affordable broadband technologies, Internet services are in high demand particularly in urban areas where a large portion of the populace uses it. There are many factors hampering the growth of Internet services in Pakistan, including the literacy rate, computer penetration, broadband investment, poor service, policy execution issues such as local content development, little broadband awareness and the lack of low interest financing for computer purchases. It is expected that steps taken by PTA in collaboration with industry players will encourage better, more economical broadband service in Pakistan. Recent developments, like tariff reductions, the growth of disposable per capita income, the rollout of new infrastructure including fibre, the introduction of triple-play services, rural tele-centre educational projects, fibre and WiMAX network deployments, and growing bandwidth demands from businesses, will drive broadband proliferation in urban and rural areas. We expect to have half a million broadband subscribers in Pakistan by 2010.