THE INTERNATIONAL Telecommunication Union has declared the 17th May, the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD), as a day to raise awareness on the benefits of ICT tools such as the television, radio, mobile phones and the Internet and other means of bridging the digital rural-urban divide. Last year the theme for World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD) was “Better life in rural communities with ICTs”. This theme was especially significant to a country like Pakistan, where 63 per cent of the population resides in rural areas. It is an acknowledged fact that in spite of the best efforts by the government, rural areas continue to lack adequate infrastructure in terms of roads, financial services, health and educational facilities, employment opportunities and government services etc. Pakistan today stands at the threshold of great chance. A growing and robust economy, a young and increasingly literate population and wide technological base give it the opportunity of emerging as a major power. At the same time, it faces the challenges of reducing poverty and inequity. World over, it has been recognized that Information and Communication Technologies play a significant role in bridging the divide between the poor and the non-poor. In our country, while voice communication has, without any doubt reduced isolation, the penetration of Internet and broadband has remained low, mainly due to a limited spread of wire-line telephones and non availability, so far, of Broadband technologies. With the launch of 3G services, the stage is set for rapid spread of Broadband.
Simultaneously, there is an urgent need for a nation-wide broadband network to reach education, healthcare, banking and other services to all the villages. In the rural environment, ICTs provide enhanced opportunities to generate income and combat poverty, hunger, ill health and illiteracy. ICTs and related e-applications are key instruments in improving governance and rural services, such as providing community healthcare, safe drinking water and sanitation, education, food and shelter; improving maternal health and reducing child mortality; empowering women and the more vulnerable members of society; and ensuring environmental sustainability.
The UN Summit on the Millennium Development Goals (MDG), from 20-22 September 2010, concluded with the adoption of a global action plan to achieve the eight anti-poverty goals by the 2015. These goals are: eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality and empower women, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria, and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability and develop a global partnership for development. Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) are part of the MDG and have an impact on other MDGs. Target 18 of goal 8 mentions the following: In cooperation with the private sector, make available the benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications technologies. According to UN availability of broadband is important for making important applications available to the population. Examples below show as to how ICT can assist in achieving other MDGs.
i. Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger – By increasing access to market information and reducing transaction costs for poor farmers and traders.
ii. Achieve universal primary education – By increasing supply of trained teachers through ICT enhanced distant training.
iii. Promote gender equality and empower women – By delivering educational and literacy programme specifically targeted towards poor women using appropriate technologies.
iv. Reduce child mortality – By increasing access of rural care givers to specialist support and remote diagnosis.
v. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases – By increasing monitoring and information sharing on disease and famine.
vi. Ensure environmental sustainability – By remote sensing technologies and communications networks which ensure more effective monitoring, resource management, mitigation of environmental risks.
Information and Communication Technologists are of the opinion that the impact of broadband on the GDP is much higher than any other ICT. According to World Bank a 10 per cent increase in broadband penetration increases GDP of a developing country by 1.38 per cent. It is, therefore, expected that countries are concerned about creating a robust broadband infrastructure that would sustain high growth of broadband services. The inclusive potential of ICT is evident at two levels: the benefits that it brings to poorer communities and the capacity of individuals within these communities to participate in new economic opportunities. ICT, particularly broadband, is, therefore, seen as a powerful tool for extensive growth.
ICT has the unique capability of bridging the urban-rural infrastructural gap in access to such services and facilities. It can overcome even literacy and language barriers and provide a two-way communication channel between the government and rural citizens. It can empower rural Pakistanis through information and market access, while connecting rural populations will ensure that they participate as equals in the social, economic and political life of the nation. The initiatives should be taken from both private and government sectors for development of ICTs in rural areas. Through all these measures, it can be expected that we will be able to lead in a new era whereby rural Pakistanis will be able to access to information, knowledge and all types of essential services through effective ICT connectivity and thus be able to contribute effectively to and reap the benefits of to the promising Pakistani growth story, and realize vision of the Father of the Nation Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah.