33 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2012
Date Written: 2012
The pro-market telecommunication policies of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan have enabled phenomenal growth in ICT access since the end of the war in 2002. Despite being a transitioning economy, mobile SIMs per 100 has gone from a mere 0.18 (50,000 active mobile SIMs) at the end of 2002 to 57.31 at the end of 2011. By comparison the penetration of fixed wire-line and fixed wireless connections (1.05 fixed access paths/ 100) is miniscule. Internet penetration also remains abysmal and the lowest in South Asia (partially due to high costs and low literacy levels).
Despite the success in connecting the people, challenges remain. Tariffs remain the highest in the South Asian region. The difficult macro-economic conditions persists as does a volatile security environment, with the constant threat of the reemergence of an embolden Taliban. Both are not conducive for further investment. There is still work to be done in connecting the unconnected, especially in rural areas and areas with a more volatile security landscape.
The recently released Open Access Policy (with its principles of non-discrimination, transparency and cost-based pricing) could alleviate concerns by operators about the ownership and management of the national Optical Fiber Cable (a shared infrastructure) by Afghan Telecom, a competitor to other operators. Whilst the policy addresses concerns with regards to Afghan Telecom, especially after it is eventually privatized, ensuring that the principles are adhered to in the subsequent regulatory implementation remains paramount.
Furthermore as the telecommunications policy environment matures, the necessity for the self-sufficiency in regulatory capacity becomes more important, since the use of outside consultants for constant monitoring and regulation is not possible.
Thirdly the increasing focus on the use of ICTs in other sectors, including government needs to be continued. Creating applications of relevance to the Afghan citizen is difficult when ICT skills are low. Even existing applications, which could have a large development impact, could do with additional policy encouragement.
Keywords: Afghanistan, sector performance review
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