DEVELOPMENT OF IT & TELECOM IN BALOCHISTAN

SYED FAZL-E-HAIDER
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)
Aug 22 - 28, 2011

Balochistan - the country's least developed province -will take decades to come on par with rest of the country's developed regions in the 21st century's fields of information technology (IT) and telecommunication. Both are the key sectors, which can help the province tread on path of fast track development.

IT INDUSTRY

Pakistan has developed into a multi billion dollar market and the country has emerged as an internationally recognized leading IT destination. The rapid growth in IT sector is largely because of foreign IT firms that started their operations in Pakistan in a bid to reduce costs and raise profits. Unfortunately, IT industry is yet to take off in Balochistan. Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB) should support the development of province's 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. 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.

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.

The government should allocate handsome funds for IT education and developing IT infrastructure in Balochistan. 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. The province needs human capital and trained IT professionals. At least 30 young professionals and teachers from the BUITMS were recently sent abroad under HEC program for training in IT and Ph.D programs. 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.

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 track 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. Presently, the USA, Canada and Europe are the major destinations of Pakistan IT enabled export.

TELECOM INDUSTRY

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 sector is currently contributing 2 percent in GDP directly and indirect contribution in other sectors of the economy takes this share to about 5 percent. Balochistan is yet to fully enjoy the fruits of deregulation, which has brought scores of new private entrants to provide service in the country. The province has immense 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.

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 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.

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 characterized 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.

Today, law and order has become a major problem in the province. It provides a risky environment to implement any business plan or economic activity. The incidents of bomb blasts, attacks on public installations and target killings have become a routine. The prevailing security situation in the province is enough to discourage the foreign firms to start their operations.

The government should also take steps to improve the security environment in the province, so that private firms could expand their operations across the province. 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.