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Afghan telcos form alliance

Afghanistan’s operators hope to improve regulation and coverage after forming operator association.

Afghanistan's telcos are keen to extend their networks further in rural areas.
Afghanistan's telcos are keen to extend their networks further in rural areas.
Regulations, Telecoms, Operators, Etisalat International - UAE
Regulations, Telecoms, Operators, Etisalat International - UAE

Afghanistan's leading telcos have formed an operator's association to strengthen their influence on regulation and share best practice on key issues such as security.

The organisation, which is called Afghanistan Telecommunication Operators' Social Association, or ATOSA, was formally launched yesterday by Afghan Telecom, Afghan Wireless Communications Company, Etisalat, MTN and Roshan.

Speaking from Kabul, the organisation's president, Najibullah Kamali, told CommsMEA that Atosa intends to focus initially on tackling security issues and extending coverage into rural areas.

He added that the organisation is also keen to accelerate a government-backed scheme to extend telecoms coverage in rural areas. In particular, Atosa is keen to see its members access a pool of government funds that have been earmarked for developing the sector.

"We [Afghanistan's operators] are paying 2.5% of our revenues to the government of Afghanistan to extend the telecommunication services to the rural areas so we want to accelerate this process.

"There are a lot of funds available from $25 million to $30 million but this has not been spent yet. So we want to accelerate the process of how to spend this fund by the Ministry of Communication to extend the network of telecom services to the rural areas," he said.

Through Atosa, the operators also hope to increase their lobbying power over the government and the telecom regulator. Kamali said that the operators were keen to develop a kind of "public private partnership" with the government to improve the telecom industry and aid the development of Afghanistan.

 "We have seen over the past eight years that the telecoms sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the country. We want to improve this to develop the sector and take a significant part in the development of Afghanistan," he said.

The telecoms industry is widely seen as one of Afghanistan's success stories. More than 10 million Afghans now have access to telecoms services compared to 20,000 in 2001. Services reach more than 80% of Afghanistan's population of 23 million people.

The sector has also created more than 100,000 indirect jobs since 2001, and is the largest tax paying sector in Afghanistan with some $500 million paid in taxes and fees to the Afghan government since 2003.