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Broadband Faces Obstacles in Pakistan
High rates, poor infrastructure primary culprits
Muhammad Jamil Bhatti (jamil)     Print Article 
Published 2006-12-20 16:22 (KST)   
Internet usage has tremendously increased throughout Pakistan during the last couple of years, with users reaching a record number of 12 million. Not only young adults but children, the elderly, and even blind people are using it.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which were giving attention only to Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad, have now extended their services to other cities of the country. Internet service is currently being provided to more than 2,389 cities and towns in Pakistan.

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According to the report of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the prices of personal computers (PCs) have been decreasing, and thus more people have PCs at their residences or workplaces. Therefore, people are now able to connect to the Internet at their residences or workplaces using cheaply available Internet cards. Internet cards are available in the market for as low as 2.5 rupees (US$0.04) per hour. But the Internet speed is creating more headaches and problems for the users. The usage of Internet cards has also affected the growth of net cafes.

On the other hand, broadband services growth is also slow due to high tariffs, lack of awareness among consumers, and paucity of service providers. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) undertook a major initiative to facilitate the development of broadband services, by permitting all ISPs to offer broadband. The government announced a Broadband Policy to support the availability of affordable and high-speed Internet. The government also encouraged private sector investment in these services. With this policy, the government was looking at a target of 500,000 broadband users within five years. But, in spite of all efforts and policies, broadband penetration growth in the country was slow. There are only 56,611 broadband subscribers (DSL), in the country, with the largest share going to 13 major ISPs.

DSL services are available in selected areas of the major cities and provincial headquarters of the country. Worldcall is considered the only main cable operator providing broadband services in Pakistan. Some other cable operators also provide broadband services to consumers. For the last few months, they have been campaigning to raise consumer awareness. Some corporate customers in Pakistan, which cannot gain other modes, are using satellite broadband services, which have very high tariffs.

PTA has been in touch continuously with the industry to ensure the enforcement of all regulatory measures to enable broadband proliferation. There are some major problems obstructing broadband services growth in the country.

Firstly, the quality of copper in Pakistan is not good and some copper cables are in very bad shape. Faulty distribution poles and cabinets, and difficulties in sharing Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL) resources like cables and ducts are also a big hindrance.

Secondly, there are some issues regarding PTCL's local loop unbundling, transmission media, collocations, and Optic Fiber Access Network (OFAN) from PTCL.

Thirdly, the line rent on DSL connections charged by PTCL is considered overly burdensome.

Fourthly, the consumers are not well aware of the benefits of broadband services in terms of avoiding telephone charges, time saving, and convenience.

Fifthly and most significantly, the PTCL monopoly is playing vital roll. PTCL's prices are very high and constitute the major share of the total cost to service providers.

Lastly, broadband service tariffs in Pakistan are many times higher compared to those in some other countries and not affordable for common people.

Lack of usable infrastructure and high broadband tariffs are being considered as the chief hurdles for broadband proliferation in Pakistan. Regulator, PTA and the government are trying hard to overcome these problems by lessening bandwidth rates and solving other problems.

Three companies -- Multinet, Wateen, and Worldcall -- are deploying fiber-optic networks throughout the country that should be helpful for broadband growth. In addition to existing SEA-ME-WE-3, two extra undersea cables have been deployed in Pakistan to secure international connectivity. Worldcall is introducing Wimax for wireless broadband.

Considering the expected reductions of bandwidth rates, elimination of other hurdles, and infrastructure development, it is expected that broadband services will be accessible widely and at affordable prices in the coming years.

On the other hand, a Canadian company. Infosat Telecommunications, recently invested in telecommunication sector of Pakistan.

Infosat, partnered with Pakistan's Comstar ISA Ltd., is going to launch the first broadband satellite hub in the country.

It is hoped that the broadband satellite hub will also be able to provide Internet access to remote areas of the country.
©2006 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Muhammad Jamil Bhatti

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