Saturday, August 04, 2001

E-Government Plan, An Internet Savvy School and Edunet Pakistan

E-Government Plan

The recently announced E-Government Plan is ambitious - but full of pitfalls what MoST needs to watch out. Automation brings transparency and makes corruption a difficult proposition. But poorly managed automation is worse than proverbial hand maintained khatha!. Corrupt officials will try to resist this automation effort to their best. The Government will need a lot of effort (and luck!) to get this done even at a handful of Ministries. But then, where there is a will, there is a way - be it a bit bumpy and crooked!

The Government also announced that utility bill collection will also be moved to Internet to provide ease-of-payment to the consumers. How this will be done is still a question. How will the money move? Credit cards? Debit Cards? E-Money? None of these exist on mass scale in Pakistan. Credit cards are a no-no as we lack basic credit culture in Pakistan. You can ditch your Citibank credit card account today and get a brand-new Standard Chartered visa card tomorrow. And of course, you need have a longer-than-others pocket to own the 'luxury' of a credit card in Pakistan. The idea of the masses paying their utility bills from the comfort of a keyboard instead of the never-ending queue in the sun is a neat one but do we have the payment mechanism for this? A payment mechanism that can be used by the less fortunate amongst us?

An Internet Savvy School

Karachi Institute of Information Technology now has a megabitful of Internet connectivity provided in the campus. While Internet access is changing from its yesteryears narrowband model to a more exciting broadband model, the Pakistani population (that includes the local IT institutes as well) continues to suffer the problems of the Internet-have-nots. At schools, at corporate, at hotels, even at ISPs, its hard to fine large capacity Internet pipes being used despite the strong need of the same. KIIT claims to be the first IT institute in Pakistan to have provisioned one megabit of Internet access for its main campus in Karachi. Faster Internet connection (and of course faster workstations) are a sure recipe of a more efficient work (and learn) environment. So KIIT deserves a tap on its back for having this done. This brings us the next idea - Edunet Pakistan!

Edunet Pakistan

Everybody tell us that Internet access costs dollars and they are not hiding any truth. Internet access is an expensive affair. But did you ever thought that you office or school LAN (Local Area Network) runs at 10 megabits per second and it doesn't cost you anything - repeat - anything - except the one time set up cost that somebody paid to have the wires laid down and the switching gear procured and plugged in. Zoom a bit out of this small picture and you would see the map of Pakistan where the national optical fiber network is already reaching every major city of Pakistan. This is our cable - jointly operated and owned by PTCL, NTC and the Ministry of Defense. And since the cable is 'ours', why should it cost us an arm and a leg to put up a multi-megabit circuit?. PTCL, while its monopoly lasts, will keep on charging us at arbitrary rates for the national voice traffic but here is the clue: PTCL can, right now, offer free-of-cost (or, lets say, dirt-cheap) multi-megabit access to Educational Institutes across Pakistan to form Edunet Pakistan - a high speed data network exclusively for the educational institutes of Pakistan. Such a high-speed data network will act as a catalyst for change in our education which is currently marred with centuries-old paper-and-pen approach. Imagine students maintaining educational, personal and research websites on this network, sharing bulky information quickly and efficiently, participating in cross-institute video conferencing sessions, learning the communication technology itself - and best of all, growing in an environment similar to that available to students worldwide. Internet access on Edunet Pakistan might not be ultra-fast but that could be the real-interesting point. The expected, slow Internet access on this high-speed network would take care of the 'distraction' problem that is being faced by educationists worldwide where students download MP3 songs over high-speed Internet provisioned by the schools and other such activities which might not be directly productive in nature!