DEVELOPING IT & TELECOM IN BALOCHISTAN
Aug 9 - 15, 2010
Taking advantage of its geo-strategic position, Balochistan can be developed as a hub of activity for international and local Telecom and IT firms. There is a need to prepare a well thought policy for development of Telecom and IT sectors in the province, after intensive discussions and debates involving all stakeholders.
The mobile telephony market in the province should be characterised by a tremendous consumer demand, high levels of competition, and a government that would be ready to welcome inward investment. The government should set an annual target for the mobile penetration in province and efforts should be directed to achieve that target by the end of the fiscal year.
Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) should support the development of Balochistan IT industry in areas like human capital development, IT park construction, and marketing. The PSEB should help the province in preparing a training module. The call center related skills training can provide the local youth lucrative jobs.
Balochistan, the least developed province of the country, is yet to enjoy and benefit from the advancement in computing and telecommunications. Computer literacy is the high demand of present digital age. The local youth are still deprived of the opportunities and facilities, which are necessary to make development in any field of science and technology. Today, the IT professionals guide the young entrepreneurs in solving their day-to-day problems and inform them the latest trends in IT especially in E-Commerce domain to answer all questions emerging due to dynamic change in IT and also suggest possible solutions to cope with emerging issues. The call centers serve for the processing of calls originating from different places. A modern call center provides multilateral services including customer support, inbound sales, order taking, credit verification, and outbound telemarketing.
Shortfall of revenue and absence of venture capital are the main issues, which should be resolved by allocating more funds for the development of IT industry in Balochistan. The local companies need a healing touch from the government. If awarding contracts accommodates them, it will help them build their record and play significant role in griping a market for Balochistan, both nationally and internationally. The issue is the development and consolidation of IT industry in the province.
There will be no use of producing an army of IT professionals without developing and strengthening IT industry in the province. Government should resolve the problems of IT firms, help them build their trade record and place them in the national and international IT market. Steps should also be taken for imparting IT education in Balochistan at school level by setting up computer laboratories. The federal government and the province should equally share the expenditure.
Balochistan lacks the skilled and qualified persons to develop IT sector in the province. It also lacks the IT infrastructure. That is why, the skilled IT professionals move towards other provinces preferably to Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. On the other hand, the lack of encouragement of local IT professionals has been an important factor that could not promote the IT environment in the province. Balochistan absolutely lacks trained human resources for establishing call centers. The provincial government should set up institutes for training of local youth in sales, customer services, regional demographics and in English language skills. The province lacks the training facilities related to setting up a call center. Unfortunately, for shortage of skilled people in the local market, the training and development costs will go up in Balochistan.
There is a dire need to impart training in data basis, networking, web designing, graphic designing and other areas of IT field. It will take time at least 4 to 5 years for promotion of IT skills and growth of the sector in the province.
Less affordability and non-availability of electricity are the main impediments for development of telecom sector in Balochistan. Other obstacles are its geography and demography indicating a difficult terrain and scattered population. The province still lacks the sound telecommunication infrastructure and remains a potential telecom market after the deregulation of telecom industry.
The province is yet to fully enjoy the fruits of deregulation, which has brought scores of new private entrants to provide service in Pakistan. The deregulation of telecom industry is fast gaining momentum with dozens of more communication companies and millions of customers entering both the fixed-line and mobile telephone markets.
The mobile network covers a population of 2.7 million which is around 35 per cent of total population of Balochistan. The fixed line subscribers are substituting fixed line with mobile services in the province. In 2006, the fixed line subscribers in the province have dropped by five per cent.
The province is still far behind, as compared to the rest of the country, which has witnessed a faster growth in tele-density during last three years. Though the sector is growing well in the provincial capital Quetta with new mobile connections every month, yet its penetration among the lowest strata of society, especially in rural Balochistan, is much less than the Quetta city.
The government should take Balochistan's telecom future seriously and announce a special telecom policy for the rapid growth of this industry in the province. It should also take steps to improve the security environment in tribal areas of the province, so that private firms could expand their operations in these areas. The level of development in telecommunication is generally measured through tele-density; hence the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) should take steps to enhance tele-density in the province. Steps should be taken to establish community-based tele-centers across Balochistan, where telecom facilities will be shared instead of having dedicated facilities.
The government needs to play a role of facilitator in growth of cellular telephony in Balochistan. It should facilitate more operators to start with their operations and extend incentives to the telecom industry in the province. What is needed on the part of government is the development of reliable and sound telecommunications infrastructure in the province. It must take steps to lay fibre optic in all the districts, so that the mobile telephone firms could complete their coverage plans in far-flung areas and the people of rural Balochistan could also enjoy the services and franchise being provided by these firms in Quetta or other cities of Pakistan.
The investments in telecom sector can only be attracted if the province presents a stable political scene. The government should make efforts for bringing a political reconciliation in the province and improving the law and order situation, which is essential for luring the foreign investors.