Development? — ICTs speak!

Throughout the previous five to six years of my life I have indeed seen a massive spread of Information communication technology in Pakistan. Since I have been a part of this digital revolution in almost all ways it’s my generation which has the say in this regard; for the youth of Pakistan is the only portion of society benefitting from ICTs.

The “technology boom” as they say has been much exploited by the government of Mr. Musharaf (and his team) for making a case in favor of his services for the development of the country. It is undeniable that this technology flood occurred in the period of year 2001 onwards. From PCs being few and far between and cell phones being a rare sight, here we stand in 2009 with computers being a necessity of our lives, broadband being made available to even remote areas of urban infrastructure, largest WIMAX network being installed in country and the cellular subscribers around 90 million. A big question is: has this technology revolution been carved out by visionary leadership, prudent policies and foresighted development plans or it had to happen no matter what?

I won’t speak up on my own behalf: let’s hear from ICT development indexes!

“The latest edition of Measuring the Information Society features the new ITU ICT Development Index. The Index captures the level of advancement of ICTs in more than 150 countries worldwide and compares progress made between 2002 and 2007. It also measures the global digital divide and examines how it has developed in recent years. The report also features a new ICT Price Basket, which combines fixed, mobile and broadband tariffs for 2008 into one measure and compares it across countries. The analytical report is complemented by a series of statistical tables providing country-level data for all indicators included in the Index.” read more


Alright so lets face it! where do we stand?

Pakistan:

  2002 2007 Change
Rank 146 127 19
IDI 0.89 1.46 0.57

These figures seem impressive if compared to the immediate neighbors of Pakistan in the ranking. India depreciated from 117 to 118 and IDI change being 0.4.  On the contrary Saudi Arabia leaped by 18 positions in the table. Now comparing globally: the overall average value of IDI in 2002 was 2.48 which increased to 3.40 in 2007 with the net increase being 0.92. Seeing the larger picture, it appears that we did develop our ICTs quite much but still not quite enough. Certainly in my opinion this index change doesn’t show that Pakistan had a frog-leap with regards to ICT development.

“The country that gained most worldwide in ranking is Pakistan, moving up 19 places (see Chart 4.3). With a rank of 127 it is still low and has a long way to go towards becoming an inclusive information society. But progress has been significant in the past five years, mainly because in 2002 there was almost no ICT access and usage in the country, whereas in 2007, 8 per cent of households had computers and Internet user penetration reached 10.7 per cent. Pakistan has made less progress on the skills sub-index, which scores relatively low.” link     

The broadband internet penetration is still less than 1%! Striking isn’t it? PTCL has provided broadband on the landline to almost all PTCL subscribers and still we have this much low percentage. Major contributors are the lack of purchasing power of people and the very low computer literacy in my opinion. In villages hardly one or two PCs are there and the PTCL exchange doesn’t see it feasible to provide the DSL access to the whole exchange of villages. We need a lot more to do to bring people to use ICTs and to develop content targeting villagers. They simply do not see it useful to use ICTs.

Again with regards to the prices of ICT basket, which calculates an average based on the charges of fixed line calls and cellular calls plus SMS and the fixed broadband rate, Pakistan ranks 98, way below India at 74. The pricing chart suggests that in Pakistan and India the ICTs are much cheaper than the countries having same IDI ranking as theirs. This however, does not necessarily depict that we are at any advantage. ICTs may be cheaper but they are not being used in Pakistan for development of country: we really are not utilizing the potential of ICTs. With respect to fixed line charges India and Pakistan are close by at positions 103 and 106 respectively. We often brag about the reduced telephone call rates in our country but the rankings suggest that Pakistan is still not quite cheap. Bangladesh is cheaper in the lowest group. In mobile cellular sub basket Pakistan is at 76 while India is still ahead at 64. As a consequence we are in top ten economies in the lower group to have the cheapest rates, while India lies in lower-middle group: ahead of us! In fixed broadband we stand at 102 and India at 73! We need to really improve here. India again comes in top 10 economies in lower-middle group and Pakistan is nowhere.

All these yardsticks of ICT development clearly depict that we have a long way to go in developing our ICTs and to bring them to use in the development of our country. Being a member of technical society of Pakistan I voice my concern over the poor use of ICTs by us. We lack proper content be it in education, commerce, governance, health; we need to pay closer attention to bringing ICTs to use for solution of our real problems. A poor village person might not get immediate benefit by provision of access to a computer in his agriculture but he might certainly benefit in getting connected to world and to voice his concerns and complaints to authorities through e-governance. Similarly, getting a high bandwidth link might not be of any use to a person living in remote area, but ICTs can certainly help him/her get access to a doctor.

We need to think objectively and analyze the problems we all are facing: blaming it to dogs is not gonna help in any way. Let’s take steps to address key challenges of Pakistan and use ICTs for this purpose.

 

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