Pannel discussion on Internet Access, Infrastructure, and Government Policy for its development in Afghanistan

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On day 1 of the Afghanistan School on Internet Governance (AfSIG2017), organized by National IT professionals Association of Afghanistan (NITPAA), a panel discussion was arranged in the afternoon session. The discussion topic was chosen to be Internet access, infrastructure, and government policy for its development in Afghanistan. The panelists were representatives from government, private sector, academic, and social community. Mr. Aimal Marjan Ex-Deputy minister of IT in Ministry of Communication and IT, Mr. Javid Hamdard Vice Chancellor Academics Karwan University, and Mr. Natayaraju Sapana CTO Wasel telecom. The session was moderated by Mr. Said Zazai, the co-founder NITPAA. The panel started with the brief description about what have been achieved so far since 2001 in Afghanistan.

Recalling the first days of interim government after the fall of Taliban region, Mr. Marjan said that it was the days when we were having Internet connection from Pakistan and we had to pay 1300US$ for 1Mb Internet. PTCL Pakistan was the only company who was giving us the Internet and that too for 1300US$. Mentioning the progress, Mr. Marjan said that in 2006, Afghan Telecom Company was formed inside MCIT (Ministry of Communication and IT) to address the communication issues of the country. Government decided to have its own public Optical Fiber ring throughout the country and this task was started under the Afghan Telecom company infrastructure.

Stating about the regional effects on the country, Mr. Marjan said that an open policy was approved for private sectors in Pakistan and this effected Afghanistan. In a region, the countries are very deeply effective on each other and that is why we do have regional cooperation bodies such as APNIC, LACNIC, APrIGF and many other regional bodies working towards the IT and communication standards focusing on the region they exist in.

Mr. Marjan said that this open policy of Pakistan allowed Wateen telecom, mobilink and other telecom operators to have their own fiber optics ring. This brought a big change in cost for Afghanistan. Instead of PTCL’s 1300US$, Afghanistan got a contract with Wateen telecom for 250US$ per MB per month. This huge variation became possible only when the open policy was implemented in Pakistan. At the moment, Afghanistan is getting 1STM link (capacity of 1STM=155MBps) from Pakistan for 155US$. This huge drop down in price is due to the effect of open policy of one country on the region.

Recalling his memories, Mr. Javid Hamdard shared his story that when they returned from Pakistan, they needed to travel back for one week to Quetta Pakistan to make an international phone call back in 2001-2002. This was where we were. But today, we have 18-24 million mobile users and 6-7 million Internet users and most of them are the 3G users. Criticizing the government, Mr. Hamdard said that when I make a big leap in terms of presenting statics from 18 million to 24 million, it shows that still we are not seeing things in the right direction and we still need to be sure of what we are doing. On question of comparing Afghanistan’s today’s achievements in the ICT sector with the situation of Afghanistan in ICT in 2001 to 2006, Mr. Hamdard said that it is not right to compare the situation internally. We need to compare ourselves regionally. We need to see if we are match able to Pakistan, India, and other countries in terms of service quality, technology and future plans.

The question raised to Mr. Natayaraju Sapana, CTO Wasel Telecom was that How Wasel telecom can sustain itself in the market with their CDMA technology whereas the 5 other telecom operators are GSM and more than 96% of mobile users are GSM users? Also, we know that Afghan Telecom Company tried CDMA for its mobile services before going to GSM with the Salaam telecom brand, but they failed in it and Wasel telecom bought it. Mr. Sapana said that it doesn’t matter what technology you are using. The thing that matters is the quality of service. With better services, any operator with any technology can lead the market. Talking further about the technology, Mr. Sapana mentioned that in fact the technology used in GSM is also the CDMA technology but the advanced one of it. It is WCDMA technology that GSM uses. So over all it isn’t technology but the service quality that can lead the market.

There were questions about the security of and in cyber space in the country. Taking a question from Mr. Nasir Ahmadzai, the participant and organizer of the AfSIG2017 event, Mr. Marjan responded that security always come in two layers. One layer belongs to consumer and consumer has to protect it himself / herself. The second layer is at the service provider ends. The organizations has to take care of that. At the moment, Afghanistan has a big issue in the security aspect in cyber space. To address this, MCIT has an AFCERT team in Information security directorate. But that needs to be more efficient and capable to address the requirement of the day.

MCIT Afghanistan has announced the launch of 4G technology for the mobile operators recently. The experts believe that this decision was made out of no market study and most of them call it a blind decision. Also, Afghanistan has signed an agreement with china in the mid of April 2017 and according to that, Afghanistan will be connected with China through the Badakhshan province of Afghanistan. The government official was asked about these two things and the response was that Afghanistan is not ready for 4G at all. This decision was taken in only 3 days while for 3G launch, MCIT had done a one and a half year market research and up gradation before announcing the 3G license in the country. Also, related to Afghan-China fiber optics, Mr. Marjan said that it won’t be an easy task to do. There are mountains and a lot of other barriers and let’s see how this is getting done.

On questions of service quality by the Mobile operators in the country, Mr. Hamdard said that ATRA has a mechanism where you can register your complaint about the telecom operators in the country and it is not only government but we also have to be cooperative as well. We need to keep our selves aware of our rights in terms of consumer rights and do register our complaints against the things we think is needed to be reported. Also, Mr. Hamdard emphasized on the importance of data classification in the country during his discussions.

Over all, the discussion was very fruitful and the participants had quality participation whereas the panelists were very open to answer their any question.

Originally posted at: www.akazizi.af

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