Promoting Internet use

Aftab Ahmad
Published, Dawn: September 19, 2011

As a result of the telecommunication boom witnessed over the last decade, nearly 60 per cent of the country’s population owns a mobile phone. The reported number of mobile phones is over 100 millions. However, the number of Internet connections has not gone beyond 3.5 millions.

Pakistan’s use of Internet is one of the lowest among the developing economies. Internet’s use as of year 2009 was 39.2 of the population in Brazil, 28.9 of China, 28.3 of Mexico, 8.7 of Indonesia and 5.1 per cent of India. Internet penetration in Pakistan at about two per cent of the population is much lower than other emerging economies.

It should not be surprising that the use of Internet is at such a low level, while 60 per cent of the population is in possession of a mobile phone. Cell phone is a relatively inexpensive device, carrying immense benefits. Besides, the use of a mobile phone does not require the user to be literate. The device is currently used by construction workers, plumbers, electricians, taxi drivers and even small children, etc..

On the other hand, in order to be a regular user of the Internet, one must be in possession of a desk-top or a laptop and a fixed telephone line at the residence or office. Besides, the use of Internet requires the user to be educated with a reasonable knowledge of the English language. An overwhelming majority of the people in Pakistan do not fulfil these conditions, due to the wide-spread poverty and poor literacy rates that have not witnessed any marked improvement in the recent past.

However, if a country fails in promoting its Internet use, it must pay the price by remaining in the back seat in the march for economic progress. Use of Internet helps in updating one’s knowledge on the subject of one’s choice. It helps in connecting with individuals or groups anywhere in the world. After establishing contacts, these can be maintained at a very nominal cost.
Internet enables considerable time saving as well as cost saving.

A businessman using the Internet promotes his business, finds new business partners and communicates with them around the world at a nominal cost. In addition, a trader increases the volume of sales through online commerce. But, this pre-supposes extensive use of Internet, a credit card culture and serviceable roads and communication network across the country — to be able to deliver goods to online buyers.

Obviously, if the business community lacks Internet facility, it is likely to find itself handicapped, uncompetitive, and lacking in efficiency. It might have difficulty in promoting its business and securing time-value of its products. The present-day global economy is a knowledge-driven and only those using the modern tools and technology can become competitive.

It is the duty of the government to formulate policies and take appropriate measures to promote the use of Internet.

However, a visible change in this regard can be brought about only by raising the literacy rate, reducing poverty and undertaking development of physical infrastructure throughout the length and breadth of the country.

It is hardly possible to achieve these objectives by spending two per cent of the GDP on education and having a tax-to-GDP ratio of nine per cent. The government needs to raise its revenue collection substantially and boost its expenditure on education, health and poverty alleviation in order to bring about a real change in the economic scenario in the foreseeable future.


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