Despite remarkable economic growth in recent years, the situation in Afghanistan remains fragile. Key challenges include deteriorating security conditions and growing frustration among citizens about the Government’s limited ability to deliver basic services. The Government thus needed to find ways to improve governance, expand the reach of public services, and accelerate economic growth.
The ICT sector in Afghanistan had experienced significant growth since 2002. As of late 2010, the number of mobile telephone subscriptions was approximately 15 million, jumping from 60,000 telephone lines in 2002, and mobile telephone networks covered about 80 percent of the population. This achievement entailed over US$1.6 billion private sector investment and 60,000 direct or indirect job creation. However, the ICT sector still required further growth and reforms to mainstream the use of ICT for social and economic development in a complex and volatile environment.
The project was designed to improve the ICT sector by expanding connectivity, mainstreaming use of mobile applications , and fostering the development of the local IT industry. The expansion of reliable connectivity increased the reach of high-quality mobile telephone and internet services to citizens throughout the country while improving public service delivery, simplifying access to information and markets, and fostering the IT industry. The core objectives of the eAfghanistan strategy—including local IT capacity building, IT industry development and incubation activities in IT and IT-enabled services—were embedded in the project. The project added optical fiber loops in Bamya, in central Afghanistan, and Kapisa, in the north-east of the country, which helped in improving the overall reliability of optical fiber network.
While the project deployed telecommunications infrastructure and established shared services, technical assistance was also provided to undertake regulatory reforms and formulate a roadmap that enabled the m-apps ecosystem and capacity development. Key regulatory reforms included the adoption of Open Access Policy in October 2016, cross-sector infrastructure sharing framework as well as the allocation of additional spectrum to mobile operators.
The project built on the strong growth that had been observed in mobile services to expand service delivery while accelerating expansion and improvements in backbone network connectivity. It also aimed to enhance broadband connectivity to retail consumers and accelerate the development of the local IT industry.
Expanding connectivity: More than 1,000 km of the telecommunications backbone connectivity laid out under this component resulted in 3.5 million internet users in 2017, up from 15,000 users in 2011. Retail price of internet connectivity was US$ 37 a month in 2017, down from US$ 450 a month in 2011.
Mainstreaming use of m-apps:17 government agencies launched m-apps for public service delivery or program management. (At the closure of the project, a Service Delivery Platform was established, but pending for launch.) Fostering development of the local IT industry: ICT skills training to more than 2,352 local IT specialists undertaken to foster the local IT industry by 2017—no such activities were available as of 2011.
Bank Group Contribution
The project was financed by an IDA Grant (Emergency Recovery Loan) in the amount of US$50 million.
The World Bank team worked closely with the Ministry of Communications and IT (MCIT: an official implementing agency of the project) and the Afghan Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ATRA), not only to implement the project but also to regularly hold dialogues for improvement of the ICT sector. The team also collaborated with other donors. USAID (United States Agency for International Development) complemented the project by providing technical assistance and capacity building to help develop the ICT sector.
During the project implementation, The Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT)’s senior management gained a stronger understanding of the ICT sector. For instance, they enhanced their understanding of the influence of the National ICT strategy/policies and related implementation on the development of mobile government, and mobile technologies; and their effects on the ways governments and organizations operate. This was an unintended effect of the project and it eventually sparked the Government’s interest to expand the progress in the sector through the Afghanistan Digital Central Asia South Asia (Digital CASA 1) project , approved by the World Bank Board in March 2018. The Digital CASA 1 project was based on the outcomes of this project and sought to increase its effects through its components for regional and domestic connectivity, government network, internet exchange point, e-Government, and an enabling environment.
"I was one of 60 students in a specialization course program. Our program started in January 2016 and we had to pass an aptitude test to participate. Our class was for women only and the lecturers were also ladies. Transportation was also offered. Our lecturer was qualified and helped me to complete my assigned project during the course. This was the first program I had participated in and I studied computer science. I encouraged my other sisters to participate in such programs, because the training materials and location were completely and fully enjoyable for me. I was so happy to participate in this program and thank the MCIT and the World Bank for funding such program." -- Elnaz Hakimi