DEVELOPING IT & TELECOM IN BALOCHISTAN
Nov 22 - 28, 2010
Balochistan still lags behind in computing and telecommunication services, despite the country has spent billion of dollars in IT sector to produce IT experts. By June 2006, the country had 50,000 workers in the IT sector and by 2010, it will need, according to Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB), 232,000 trained IT professionals that would enhance Pakistan's potential to earn nine billion dollar of revenue from IT sector.
Islamabad plans to build IT parks in major cities may further accelerate the IT industry's growth. The 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. PSEB has proposed a four-year draft strategic plan, which will increase the IT industry's size to US$10 billion in 2010.
The youth in Balochistan 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.
The province faces shortage of the skilled and qualified persons to develop IT sector. It also lacks the IT infrastructure. That is why, the skilled IT professionals move towards other cities and towns 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. The government must address the grievances of the local 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.
The province direly needs human capital and trained IT professionals. The government should allocate handsome funds for IT education and developing IT infrastructure in the province. It can arrange internship program in Karachi, Lahore and other cities for IT students of the province at least for a period of six months.
Taking advantage of its geo-strategic position, Balochistan can be developed as a hub of activity for international and local telecom companies. There is a need to prepare a well thought telecom policy, 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. The province is yet to benefit from the deregulation of telecom industry, 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 has huge potential for the development of telecom sector and its geo-strategic location in the region is also an attraction for the foreign telecom firms. Less affordability and non-availability of electricity are the main impediments for development of this sector in the province. 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.
Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) covers 39 cities in Balochistan with a population of more than 1.5 million. The PTCL has laid Optical Fibre from Quetta to Chaman. Similarly, it has also completed the project of lying of Optical Fibre from Loralai to Dera Ghazi Khan. It is also committed to provision of 18,552 lines on copper and WLL services in far-flung areas of the province, placing of 2.5G system in Quetta, Optical Fibre Access Network at Quetta and Hub with 13,000 and 1000 lines respectively.
The former government had taken certain initiatives to enhance the telecom access as well as tele-density in the province. For instance, it had reduced the annual regulatory fee of Wireless Local Loop (WLL) licensees operating in the province from 0.5 per cent to 0.1 per cent for three years initially and 0.5 per cent to 0.25 per cent in subsequent two years. Annual Spectrum Fee for WLL was also reduced to 10 per cent of the actual fee applicable under the license.
The government should 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.
Present 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. 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.