How information can change our lives

May 17th, 2012

Today is the World Telecommunication & Information Society Day. What better day for us to take stock of how the Internet has transformed the way we live, play and work. It is evolving our daily lives and we are embracing the benefits of it constantly, whether knowingly or unknowingly. To celebrate World Telecommunication and Information Society Day, which was adopted by the United Nations in 2005, we must understand what this day really means for us as individuals.

Less than two decades ago, weather forecasts were only reserved for newspaper columns and the News at Nine. Today, you can check the weather forecast over your smart phone with the click of a button. Information is free for anyone to tap into. Similarly, people had to lick stamps to send letters which could often take months to arrive (and sometimes never!). Today, one can sit face-to-face and communicate with someone half the world away the wonders of video chat. Distance is no longer a determinant in communication. What about commerce? There was a time when you had to visit a bank in order to use your account. Today, you can use an ATM, your debit or credit card at any retail outlet, transfer money through online banking or mobile banking to someone in anywhere in the world. Commerce has become super efficient.

These are but small examples of how the Internet and telecommunications have impacted us. The real change has been brought in by high-speed broadband. Computers today are always on and information is readily available – we are all continuously plugged in. Pakistan is no exception and we are making massive strides in enabling the country in the race for information. Today, more than 8,905 bank branches offer real-time online banking out of a total of 9,948 branches across the country – that’s almost 90% of all Pakistani banks. There are a total of 5,409 ATMs and 15.2 million plastic cards in use. All this is being enabled through the telecommunications revolution; and these numbers are only going to grow further as mobile banking takes root.

Modern societies need the Internet to grow their economies by making them efficient, transparent and measurable. The Government of Pakistan is also taking its first foray into the online domain. All of the major government departments are now online. The Government is taking massive initiatives to enable safe cities, modernise the economy through land reforms, and enable e-education. In order to bridge the urban-rural divide, the government, through the Universal Services Fund (USF), is incentivising organisations such as Wateen to deploy optical fibre and WiMAX networks in underserved areas of the country. To this end, Wateen is already working in four regions with the USF, offering subsidised broadband connectivity. Last year, we won a bid for deployment of an optical fibre network in Balochistan. The total value of this project alone is Rs. 2.4 billion. Wateen is also playing a pivotal role in enabling the PERN-2 project of the HEC (Higher Education Commission), which will enable seats of higher learning in the country to connect with international universities, hugely increasing the resources available to higher educational institutions and consequently increasing their research output.

In order to accelerate the adoption and diffusion of broadband services in the country, we have deployed and are continuing to deploy WiFi hotspots in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. These will enable broadband speeds for users at locations such as hospitals, airports, restaurants and cafes, malls etc. In addition to this, we recently signed an MoU with the Government of Punjab to deploy similar WiFi hotspots at colleges and universities across Punjab along with providing past examination papers and solved papers online to help students in their courses. Why do I mention this? Because information is now the real currency of power. One fantastic example is the impact of social media on our lives. On Facebook alone, Pakistan has a growing online population of over 6.4 million and is ranked number 26 in the world in terms of internet accessibility. A recent survey in KLI identified that 73% of urban shoppers are now on Facebook and three-in-five users interact with products or brands on Facebook. This is a massive number considering that the broadband penetration in the country only amounts to 1.7 million connections. Technology is paving the way for societies to evolve in becoming more connected, productive, transparent and efficient. The age of free information will enable the next generation of Pakistanis to become more adept and in-tune with the rest of the world. These achievements are the beginning of a digital age in Pakistan.

Some information about World Telecommunication & Information Society Day:

The World Telecommunication & Information Society Day was adopted by a UN resolution to create awareness about societal changes brought in by the Internet and aims to help reduce the digital divide. Pakistan is one of the member states that aims to celebrate the day annually by organising appropriate national programmes with a view to:

  • Stimulating reflection and exchanges of ideas on the theme adopted by the Council
  • Debating the various aspects of the theme with all partners in society
  • Formulating a report reflecting national discussions on the issues underlying the theme, to be fed back to ITU and the rest of its membership