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Remarks by Franklin L. Lavin
Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade
“Afghanistan: Opportunities in the Telecommunications Sector”
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Department of South Asia, Middle East and Africa Affairs
Monday, August 21, 2006

As Prepared

Great to be here Herb [Davis, Vice President for South Asia, Middle East and Africa Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce] and thank you for sponsoring this forum. Thank you, Motorola for sponsoring this event.

Thank you for being with us Minister Sangin during your national Independence Day visit to the United States. Congratulations on receiving the award “Telecommunications Visionary of the Year” from the Chamber.

There are very few countries that have gone through a transformation as that now underway in Afghanistan. From the Soviet invasion, to a brutal civil war, through the harsh regime of the Taliban, the spirit and courage of the Afghan people has remained strong. Today, Afghanistan is writing a new chapter in its proud history, one based on democracy, peace, and prosperity. Minister Sangin, you and President Karzai are helping write that history with your vision for a modern, democratic Afghanistan.

Minister, you know this fundamental truth as you work to build a prosperous nation: In order to have a successful economy you need to have a successful communications system.

I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan earlier this year and no matter where I went, no matter whom I talked with, no matter what their walk of life, everyone wanted to have a cell phone. They want to be connected. They want to have a say. They want to make a difference.

Minister, your work is helping them make that difference. About three years ago cell phone ownership in Afghanistan was less than one in 350 Afghans, and today that is about 1 in 20. Your efforts are producing results that are changing the lives of millions of Afghans. Cell networks improve disaster response, health delivery, and even educational opportunities.

In addition to the increase in cell phone ownership, charges for calls have dropped by more than 70 percent in the past three years and there has been over $350 million invested in telecommunications infrastructure in Afghanistan to date. Further investment and competition will continue to lower fees and increase the quality and variety of service. Investments in telecommunications will spur related activity, from Internet usage to television broadcasting and act as a catalyst for other business activity across the economy.

I congratulate you on your goal to have cell phone access for 80 percent of Afghans by 2010. There is work to be done, and on behalf of the United States telecommunications industry, we are ready to help. We want to offer the finest quality equipment, technology, and services to help you reach your goal and to help the Afghan economy.

Congratulations also, Minister, on your new telecomunications laws that encourage investment, and on the issuance of four additional GSM licenses. At the risk of spoiling our hosts’ appetite, go ahead and force these marvelous U.S. companies to compete with their European and Asian colleagues. The winners will be the Afghan people.

Minister, you are helping lead your people on a journey to a better life. The road at times will not be an easy one. But we know that the Afghan people have the strength to work through challenges along the way. Developing a telecomunications system is a critical step in this journey, and the United States is proud to be your partner in this important endeavor.

Thank you.