From the Deduction of SIM Credit to Low Quality of Telecommunication Services; ATRA: Proposal Underway to Improve The Services
About 12.8 million Afghans currently have access to the Internet and eight million have access to mobile phones, according to ATRA (Afghanistan Telecom Regulatory Authority). A number of people who use the Internet and mobile phones criticize the low quality of telecommunications services.
Nowruz Salehi, a resident of Kabul, says that the services of telecommunications companies are fraught with problems, and that customers pay a high price for these services. Mr. Salehi adds: “All our work depends on the Internet. I spend at least 1,000 to 2,000 Afghanis a month on the internet, but I can’t use the it as much as I need to.” This resident of Kabul uses the Internet for 18 hours a day for his official and personal work. According to him, in the place where he lives, the quality of the Internet and antennas is very poor. Nowruz Salehi stays up some nights until 1:00 to 2:00 in the morning to do his work that requires high speed internet. Mr. Salehi, in the area where he lives, has tried various telecommunication networks in order to find a quality network, but he has not succeeded.
“In the place where we live, some telecommunications networks do not even have an antenna,” said the Kabul resident. “In addition, we cannot properly store the credit card inside the SIM card. Credit is deducted by the company under various pretexts. The answer from the employees of the telecommunication companies is that you have activated the package, while their packages are not even worth listening to and waste time.” Nowruz Salehi communicates with his colleagues abroad via the Internet. He says that many times when he did not contact his colleagues.
On the other hand, Mushtaq Ahmadi, another resident of Kabul, says that internet services in Afghanistan are of poor quality and unnecessarily expensive. “Although the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology and the ATRA are responsible for this, they have not yet been able to act responsibly,” Mr. Mushtaq added. “The current state of Internet services in the country is awful.”
Meanwhile, Saeed Shinwari, head of public information and communications at ATRA, the country’s telecommunications services regulator, said that the national fiber-optic network used to be owned only by Afghan Telecom, but now they have licensed the fiber-optic company to create healthy competition. It also includes Etisalat and Afghan Wireless Telecommunications and Brishna Company. Mr. Shinwari added that a number of telecommunications companies import the Internet from Pakistan and sometimes have problems along the way due to insecurity. According to him, currently the only Afghan wireless telecommunications company imports internet from Central Asia. ATRA’s director of information and public relations states that Brishna is also trying to obtain a license to import the Internet from Central Asia. The company has 3.5 thousand kilometers of fiber optic network in the country and uses it for GPS. The national fiber network in the country currently has 7,300 kilometers of optical fiber. ATRA intends to increase this figure to at least 12,000 kilometers in the current year.
In addition, ATRA has issued four fiber-optic licenses that take the Internet home-to-home or office-to-office. Officials say there are four other applications for urban fiber licenses in the department.
“We only import internet from Pakistan, and in places under the Taliban, they use fiber optics,” he said. According to him, fiber optics had recently been cut off in Hairatan, Torghundi and Baghlan. He adds that just as telecommunication towers are smashed down in unsafe places, so is fiber optics. According to him, if the fiber optic network is cut off in Baghlan, the northern provinces will be deprived of internet.
In addition to this, ATRA says that it works with the Ministry of Urban Development and Public Works and that wherever they build roads, there should be a channel for telecommunication infrastructure. According to President Ghani, wherever a road is built, there must be a telecommunications infrastructure channel.
Statistics of the Telecommunication Services Regulatory Office show that 165 gigs of internet were imported in 2019, 195 gigs in 2020 and 211 gigs in the first quarter of 2021. Saeed Shinwari says that a gig of internet costs about forty dollars for telecommunication companies. He denied allegations that telecommunications companies were buying a pocket-sized internet for nine Afghanis.
War and insecurity have caused huge financial damage to the activities of telecommunications companies. ATRA says that across the country, 30 percent of telecommunications networks are currently shut down due to insecurity at night or at different times of the day, including 1,300 antenna stations. Telecommunication companies have a total of 7,300 antennas.
In addition to the cessation of telecommunication companies in a number of insecure areas of the country, 308 telecommunication bases were partially or completely destroyed last year, and about $17 million in damage was inflicted on telecommunication companies. Mr. Shinwari says that in the first quarter of the current year, 51 telecommunication bases have been partially or totally destroyed, costing between 100,000 and 150,000 dollars each.
The Telecommunications Regulatory Authority says it has amended some articles of the Telecommunications Regulatory Act to control their call and Internet rates. According to him, if the National Assembly approves this amendment, the ATRA office can intervene in determining the price of call rates and the Internet.
At present, due to the free market, this office cannot interfere in the prices of telecommunication companies’ services. ATRA’s director of public relations and communications calls on the National Assembly to approve the amendment, which is in the public interest, as soon as possible.
We Are Behind The Technology Of The Day
Meanwhile, Dr. Hadi Hedayat, a professor at Kabul University and a former deputy of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, told 8 Subh that technology is advancing very fast all over the world and a number of countries have good expertise in this field.
Mr. Hedayati adds that the interference of institutions, such as the Ministry of Communications, ATRA and the Statistics Office, has prevented telecommunications companies from providing the quality that citizens need. He states that ATRA both provides license for telecommunications activities and controls quality and price, and this is not logical. “Another reason is that they have always lagged behind modern technology,” he said. “In other countries, there is talk of 5G, but in Afghanistan, 4G is being launched.” According to Mr. Hedayat, in order to increase its revenue sources, ATRA has put telecommunication frequencies up for auction at exorbitant prices for telecommunication companies, which will eventually be paid by the citizens if any of the telecommunication companies wins.
Dr. Hedayati adds that no serious attention has been paid to the fiber networks that connect cities and even the region. According to him, if the fiber network is implemented in all parts of the country, in addition to improving the quality of telecommunications, we can also enjoy the benefits of the Internet in the field of education, training and health. According to him, although fiber optics have been implemented in more than 25 provinces, its maintenance and care has not taken a standard form. He states that in a route, when the network is disconnected, there is no support connection. Also, the lack of modern technology has led to high internet prices in Afghanistan.
Regarding the criticism of a number of citizens, the former Deputy Minister of Communications said that if we pay attention to the price between the Internet and calls in neighboring countries and Afghanistan, the citizens’ complaints will be stamped with approval.
Given this, we shall see when customer satisfaction is achieved by telecommunications companies.