By Anoosha

SINCE THE time PTA had conferred various stakeholders to a press conference on Demand of 3G and Beyond held sometime in July 2010, it doesnt seem to have rested. With regards to the actual licensing, the content of the news doesnt seem to have changed till today. What makes the affair worst is the fact that it is the regulatory body of an industry sector that has managed to be progressive year after year.

However, the situation in neighbouring countries, like India and Afghanistan, particularly, is quite different rather opposite, albeit the telecom sector of Pakistan is one of the most robust telecom sectors around the world. This makes one wonder over how come a politically defamed, economically dawdling, and a socially sluggish country, which has been in state of war and subdued by US Army, is better than Pakistan when it comes to licensing 3G, which by all means is a more stable and established country than Afghanistan.

With India and other countries now moved onto 4G, we suffer a different fate. Lets take a brief look at the number of accomplishments each of the two tolls for the last decade:

Afghanistan Telecom Regulatory Authority (ATRA)

The telecommunication sector in Afghanistan started evolving and progressing after the formation of Ministry of Communication and Information Technology in1955. The telecom sector of Afghanistan has gone through a metamorphosis however, within the last decade. The absence of a regulatory body was where the Afghanistans IT Industry lagged. The coming together of ATRA bridged the gap.  Although this body was established only recently, it has played a critical role in strengthening further the telecom sector by providing best practices and developing a fully transparent regulatory environment. Also, within a short span of time, it has gathered many feathers in its cap.

It recent accomplishments include issuance of 2 licenses to MTN and Etisalat for extension of 3G services. With the support of MCIT, ATRA has extended telecom coverage all over Afghanistan covering 80 per cent of residential area of the country. It has reduced the monthly price of 1MB internet for ISPs and GSM up to $300 US. ATRA has functioned as a fair and vigilant regulatory body by charging 80 million AFN from individuals and companies that infringed the telecom regulations.

Pakistan Telecom Authority:

Where ATRAs journey has been swift and smooth, PTAs journey has been bumpy. Nevertheless, Pakistan was the second country after Brazil to receive GSM Award from the GSM Association, given to the governments that have performed exceptionally well in the field of telecom.

In 2005, fixed line connections increased from 4.1 million to 5.4 million. There was a tremendous increase in the mobile subscription from 2.4 million in 2003 to almost 23 million by the end of 2005. The telephone density also increased to 18.81 per cent from 6.25 per cent in as soon as 2006 began. Later on in 2010, PTA was declared Most Progressive Telecom Regulator in South Asia by South Asian, Middle Eastern and North African (SAMENA) Telecommunication Council.

With due observation of facts related above, would it then be fair to conclude that ATRA has indeed been more functionally effective? The most appalling part is 3G technology has reached Afghanistan and has been licensed to two companies by ATRA, but piteously, in Pakistan, there is no official licensee of 3G technology, but why is that? What has been the hitch and impediment in achieving this milestone for 2 years?

The Truth

Across the border, winds seem to blow the other way. With regards to Afghanistans IT Industry, Roshan Telecom, Afghan Telecom, Etisalat Afghanistan and MTN Afghanistan arent the only success stories.

Neda Telecom and Insta Telecom are equally exemplary. Neda Telecommunications launched its services in 2002 in Kabul. It was Afghanistans first licensed ISP. Today, Neda has an extensive network and 24-hour on-call helpdesk, which makes Neda most wanted for all shrewd customers.

In Afghanistan, two mobile operators have been awarded a 3G license so far. The very first Telecom Operator to have received the 3G license was Etisalat, which paid $25 million for it. MTN was the second GSM Provider to receive the 3G license and paid the same amount.

Recently, PTA has again passed a promising statement that PTA will complete the auctioning of 3G technology within 4 months period. This time PTA has again come up with a promising statement that multi-billion dollar transaction of auctioning 3G technology will take place in the presence of media and civil society representatives and an integrity pact will be put in place. The content of this recent news is a bit different though the bottom line is just the same i.e. “delay.”

No matter how much PTA twists the story, the delay seems to be intentional. PTA blames government and government holds the PTA responsible. The underlying cause behind the delay seems to be the case of corruption. In its defense, PTA has stated that the delay will no longer be, as soon as a Monitoring Committee has been instated by the government to ensure transparency.

Isnt this uncanny that the period in which PTA is seen to be making unnecessary delays, ATRA provides 3G licenses to two of its operators? Does it take 2 years to gather and establish a Monitoring Committee and if transparency is main objective then can PTA give a lucid explanation of the redundant delays as well?

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