Afghanistan signs satellite deal to boost booming media

KABUL (AFP) - Afghanistan started using its first ever satellite on Saturday in a bid to boost its national broadcasting and telecommunications infrastructure as well as its international connectivity.

Afghanistan's telecommunications sector and a growing digital media industry are among the Afghan government's biggest achievements since the fall of the Taleban regime in 2001.

The new satellite, Afghansat 1, will support a wide range of services including broadcasting, mobile telephony and IP connectivity, officials said.

"We can say it is a historical move, because for the first time Afghanistan is renting a satellite," Mr Amirzai Sangin, minister of Information Technology and Telecommunication said in Kabul as Afghanistan started to use the satellite.

The Afghan government has signed a multi-year deal with European satellite operator Eutelsat to deploy the in-orbit satellite, which the company said would provide full national coverage and extensive reach across Central Asia and the Middle East.

"We are renting this satellite for US$4 million per year, and based on our calculations, we can earn US$15 million annually from it," Mr Sangin added.

The boom in Afghan media in the past 12 years is one of the most visible bright spots to foster a stable democracy, even as the Nato troops are preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan.

The country remains wracked by war with Taleban insurgents and mired in corruption and poverty.

Under the Taleban regime, Afghans had to go to neighbouring Pakistan to make international phone calls, but today almost 90 per cent of population have access to mobile services countrywide.

While many remote mountainous regions still lack connectivity, the internet is booming in the big cities.