Kabul, Afghanistan — There are only 12,000 functioning telephones for nearly 2 million people in Kabul. And most calls never go through.
The situation is worse in the provinces.
Wiring Afghans is a colossal challenge that has only just begun.
For starters, the government is scrambling to lure investors to build private cellular networks. The bigger challenge will be repairing and extending the rudimentary, bomb-damaged wireline phone network.
After years of war, Afghanistan is one of the world's poorest countries, and many Afghans have never made a phone call or even heard of the Internet, let alone sent an e-mail.
"We have a big technological gap because no investment has come into this sector over the past two decades apart from very limited investment in telephones," Communications Minister Mohammad Masoom Stanakzai said.
He has big plans to install digital phone lines and fiber optic cables in the war-scarred country even though he doesn't even have an Internet connection in his office.
Already, the Afghan government and New Jersey-based Telephone Systems International have formed a partnership, Afghan Wireless Communication Co., and began offering cell phone service in April.