Hidden Benefits of CPEC in terms of “Digital Pakistan”

Engr. Dr. Mustansar Ali Ghazanfar
BSc (Gold Medalist) Pakistan; MSc PhD UK

China-Pakistan Economic Corridor(CPEC)is a long-term broad framework with multiple sectoral projects, which will be completed in different phases through bilateral agreements agreed upon by both sides as a win-win equation. Minister AhsanIqbal, while briefing over CPEC explained that the initial investment worth $46 billion would be primarily used for developing the infrastructure and producing energy, and the bulk of this amount, that is, $35 billion would be utilized for energy, and the rest for developing the infrastructure.

The main focus of CPEC is energy projects and the direct rewards(especially long-term) are immense. However, there are some other hidden benefits that can change the future of Pakistan. One of these advantages is stepping close towards “Digital Pakistan” goals (listed in Vision2025 introduced by Ministry of Planning, Development and Reform) in terms of Internet User’s Density. In 1995, the Internet connectivity was less than 1%; however, toady around 40% of the world population has an Internet connection.The number of Internet users has increased tenfold from 1999 to 2013. As per figures of ITU, the 55.5% population of Internet users lives in Asia and the remaining 44.5% lives in the rest of the world.

The penetration of Internet in Pakistan is very low compared to the surrounding region (central Asia). The growth in Internet user has mainly been due to pervasive mobile technology (smartphone and tablets), cheap availability of technology. Activates that attract more Internet users include online shopping, online videos, online search engines, digital social media online gamming and entertainment and many other activities. The Internet traffic is chiefly dominated by multi-billion dollar companies and transnational corporations like Google, Facebook or Amazon and their local pendants Baidu, Weibo or Rakuten.

The penetration of Internet Density in Pakistan was 10.84% with (annual) increase of 9%, in India 19.11% with increase of 14%, China at 46% with increase of 4%, Afghanistan at 6% with increase of 10% in 2014. It is worth noting that in advanced countries the penetration has moved above 80%; for example, Singapore and Hong Kong. The growth of Internet density is slow is Pakistan (despite recent Launch of 4G by Ministry of IT) and as per ITU the penetration for Pakistan is 14.6% in 2015 whereas for India it has raised to 28.3% in 2015.

CPEC have chalked out an impressive program through which we can explore various opportunities in addition to mere energy projects. With the launch of CPEC, the installation of fiber optics and satellite Internet connectionswill be done in remote areas and it can help boosting up the Internet user density. Moreover, once the major infrastructure (renovation of Gwadar and other routes as agreed by all parties) is built, more and more multi-national telecommunication companies willbe attracted by lucrative environment.According to ITU world telecommunication recommendation there should be around 30-40% penetration in 2015-2016 per country in Asia region. With CPEC, these figures can easily be acquired. CPEC can make lives of Pakistani better and can raise the image of Pakistan worldwide while meeting the targets set by ITU and ICT sector.

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