USF Co approves award of three contracts with Rs1.77bn subsidy to Telenor, Jazz

The Board of Directors (BoD) of Universal Service Fund Company (USF Co) has approved award of three contracts with a subsidy of Rs 1.77 billion to Telenor Pakistan and Jazz under Next Generation Broadband for Sustainable Development (NGBSD) Programme.

Federal Secretary Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui chaired the 67th meeting of the Board of Directors (BoD) of Universal Service Fund Company (USF Co) here on Friday. Chairman Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Major General Amir Azeem Bajwa (retd) was also present in the meeting.

The Board approved award of contracts to Telenor Pakistan for Tharparkar and Malir Lots at Rs 1.2 billion and to PMCL (Jazz) for DG Khan Lot at Rs 500 million under the NGBSD Programme.

Tharparkar Lot is a desert and has the lowest human development index in Sindh and this project will give a major boost in generating economic activity in the area. Similarly, Malir is one of the remotest areas in Karachi pockets and high speed broadband connectivity will provide access to its residents who unfortunately could not benefit from these services earlier.

Moreover, southern Punjab comprises one of the most deprived areas in the country, but NG-BSD project will now empower the locals and will make their lives better. Through these projects 1.8 million population in Tharparkar (districts of MirpurKhas and Tharparkar and 462 mauzas; area of 20,149 sq/km ), around 11,000 in Malir (26 mauzas, area of 844 sq/km) and 1.17 million people in DG Khan (districts of DG Khan and Layyah and 819 mauzas; area of 12,174 sq/km) will be benefited.

During the meeting, the chairman of the board/secretary IT was of the view that these projects were integral in betterment of areas in southern Punjab and interior Sindh. He added that these projects will play a vital role in providing e-services which involve better access to education and healthcare facilities. He further said that the NGBSD programme is going to make a huge contribution in socio-economic development of Pakistan and in improving lives of citizens of the country.

The USF management also informed the board about the Optic Fiber Cable to Union Councils Programme. The chairman of the board/secretary IT and board members stressed the need for providing optic fiber for better access to ICT services in the country and also directed the USF Co to expedite the process for implementation of Optic Fiber to Union Councils Program. They also added that optic fiber connectivity is essential for bridging the digital divide in Pakistan and is considered digital highway across the globe for paving the way to provide the ICT services. Moreover, optic fiber opens the avenues for access to digital apps and guarantees their maximum utilization. The board members emphasized on its importance and gave directions for sound and efficient implementation of this programme.

The officials revealed that the USF has around Rs 35 billion in balance and spent Rs 56.013 billion during the last over 10 years for the expansion of telecommunication services to the underserved and un-served areas of the country.

The USF officials maintained that despite massive growth, there were many areas that remained underserved. The challenges, they asserted, that the USF faces include rugged terrains, sparse population, harsh weather, lack of electricity, no backhaul and poor logistics as well as security clearance. Some of these areas include South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Orakzai, Kurram, Jhal Magsi, Dera Bugti, Nasirabad and Jaffarabad that are not being catered.

According to the sources, the government subsidizes projects for the areas which do not support business plans of telecom operators.

According to the documents, of the total Rs 56.013 billion subsidies, Ufone took a major chunk of subsidy i.e. Rs 17.12 billion (30.5 percent), PTCL, Rs 14.66 billion (26 percent), Telenor, Rs 12.787 billion (22.8 percent), Zong, Rs 4.55 billion (8.1 percent), Wateen, Rs 3.717 (6.6 percent), World Call, Rs 1.134 billion (2 percent), and Mobilink, Rs 382.145 million (0.68 percent).

Shabahat Ali Shah, CEO-NITB; Irfan Wahab, CEO-Telenor Cluster Head for Emerging Asia and Nominee of Mobile Cellular Operators; Imran Akhtar Shah, VP for Government Sales, Super Net Pvt Ltd and nominee of Data Licensees; Rashid Khan, CEO PTCL and nominee of Fixed Line Operators; Kaukab Iqbal, Chairman Consumer Association of Pakistan and nominee of Consumer Group; and management of USF Co attended the meeting.