AFGHANISTAN'S fledgling Ministry of Communications now is "connected," thanks to a U.S. telecommunications firm that has set up a satellite network in the country. Globecomm Systems Inc. (GSI), headquartered in Hauppauge, New York, has completed a government communications network that connects the 38 ministries in the Afghan capital Kabul to the 34 provincial capitals.
David Hershberg, GSI's chief executive officer, said that within the last two years his company won contracts from the Afghan Ministry of Communications (MOC) to set up two telecommunications networks in Afghanistan. The new government communications network, funded by a $15.4 million World Bank grant, was the first of these contracts.
The second, funded by a $14.2 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), is to set up a district communications network. So far, 110 districts have been connected by phone, fax and Internet, according to a July 3 posting on the MOC Web site. The remaining 255 districts are expected to be in the system by mid-2007.
Hershberg said GSI staff in Afghanistan comprises eight foreign nationals of American, Canadian, Turkish and Filipino origin, and 15 Afghan nationals. GSI also works with around 100 Afghans of different ethnic groups through a local partner called Watan (Country).
Tom O' Neil, GSI's country manager, said the work has been "very difficult but rewarding," adding that no other American telecommunications company has been so heavily involved in the field in Afghanistan. He emphasised the active "mentorship" programme provided by GSI to train Afghan workers.
GSI's other projects include a $7.4 million U.S. Department of Defense subcontract from DasNet Corporation, a network systems integration firm located in Bohemia, New York. The project will provide equipment and personnel to support a communications network for the Afghan national army. The project is due for completion in September.
Amirzai Sangin, a telecommunications engineer, heads Afghanistan's Ministry of Communication. He fled Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion in 1980 and pursued a telecommunications career in Sweden for 20 years before returning to Afghanistan soon after September 11. In 2004, Sangin was appointed the chief executive officer of Afghan Telecom, which oversees telecommunications services throughout Afghanistan on behalf of the ministry.
Progress in the telecommunications sector has bolstered Afghanistan's overall development efforts. Jim Craft, senior telecommunications adviser with the State Department's Afghanistan Reconstruction Group in Kabul, said the information communications technology (ICT) sector so far "has generated more foreign investment, high-quality jobs, and new tax revenue than any other sector." He said the number of mobile phone subscribers in the country has grown from nearly zero in 2001 to 1.0 million today. An Afghan-run private-sector company, Roshan (Light), has about 600,000 subscribers, yielding more than 4.0 per cent of the total tax revenue of the Afghan government.
Afghanistan's telecom success was singled out by the Intelligent Community Forum, which gave the Communications Ministry of Afghanistan its "Visionary of the Year" award at a June 9 ceremony in New York. The forum praised the ministry and Sangin for successfully overseeing the implementation of a "turnkey" multitechnology voice and data infrastructure at an "impressive rate."
Afghanistan's consul general in New York, Mohammad Sadiq Daudzai, accepting the award on behalf of the ministry, said it "validates the progress we have made in Afghanistan" because telecommunications is central to the country's overall reconstruction efforts.
The Intelligent Community Forum is a non-profit entity that focuses on the uses of broadband and information technology for economic development.
According to Jim Craft, a delegation of Afghan ICT leaders, including Sangin, will visit the United States in mid-August.