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Friday, 1 September, 2000, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Pakistan boosts internet access
Computer user in Pakistan
Trying to make up for lost time
By South Asia analyst Zubair Ahmed

Nearly 100 cities in Pakistan have been given internet access as part of a new information technology policy.

The government's move trebles internet access in Pakistan, at least in terms of the number of cities offering internet connections at the rate of local phone calls.

It is meant to bring the country into the IT age and rival the software success of neighbouring India by 2002.

But a recent survey of e-readiness among 42 countries put Pakistan at the bottom of the pile in terms of high-tech infrastructure, information security and trained personnel.

Catching up

At present, Pakistan has just a little over 200,000 paid-up subscribers to the internet, which is poor for a country of 140 million people.

Pakistan businessmen
Three out of every 100 people have a telephone
But the move to improve internet access to 96 cities underlines the urgency with which the government is trying to make up for lost time.

Last week, the Minister of Science and Technology, Atta-ur Rahman, announced a comprehensive IT policy to enable Pakistan leap into the digital age.

The policy focuses on the need to expand and modernise IT infrastructure.

It also envisages training IT personnel at four universities dedicated to IT studies, which the government says it plans to set up.

Wahaj Siraj, a senior member of the minister's policy-making committee, says it is part of the sudden realisation that Pakistan has a lot of distance to cover in terms of e-commerce, with total software exports at just over $20m a year.

High hopes

The new target for software exports is an increase of 200% by 2002.

Pakistan
Population
140 million

Internet subscribers
200,000

Software exports
$20m a year

Telephones
3 per 100 people
This would still be far below India's software export earnings of nearly $3bn a year.

But Pakistani officials admit that India has a headstart because it began to channel resources into technology-based training as far back as the 1950s.

Officials say they have high hopes of Pakistan's new Universal Internet Access plan, which allows for the government to subsidise internet access and encourage private internet service providers.

But analysts say this may not be enough for a country where just three in every 100 people have a telephone connection.

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See also:

31 Aug 00 | South Asia
Pakistan may get emergency funds
22 Aug 00 | Business
The losers of the digital divide
14 Oct 99 | The Economy
Pakistan's economic nightmare
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