Striving to bridge the digital divide by spreading IT & Telecommunication benefits USF set to provide High Speed Mobile Broadband access to 11m people in Pakistan’s remote areas

The Universal Service Fund (USF), an establishment of the Ministry of Information Technology & Telecommunication (MoITT), is working on a number of projects to provide High Speed Mobile Broadband services to the people of the un-served or the under-served regions of Pakistan, areas which are not usually considered commercially viable for the telecom companies.
The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of USF, Haaris Mahmood Chaudhary in an exclusive interview with Pakistan Observer outlined various initiatives and incentives that USF offers to the telecom players—Mobilink, Ufone, Telenor, Zong and many others— to lay out their network and provide cutting-edge services in the interior areas of Sindh, Southern Punjab, far-flung areas of Balochistan, formerly Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and mountainous terrains of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP).
Since its establishment, USF has designed different programs to fill the communication gaps in the existing telecommunication infrastructure and coverage locations, he said.
Haaris Mahmood Chaudhary was appointed as CEO earlier in September this year when the novel coronavirus was at its peak. He has rolled out an ambitious strategy to narrow the digital gap and transform the lives of rural communities with Broadband access that is at par with the urban areas.
“The USF provides financial incentives to licensed telecom operators – typically through competitive bidding processes – to make the much-needed investments and to operate services in the un-served or under-served areas of Pakistan,” he said. “Soon after, they extend their footprint to those areas which are otherwise not very productive in terms of revenue”.
“In the month of October, the USF awarded contracts worth approximately PKR 5.2 Billion to Zong, Telenor, Ufone and PTCL for providing High Speed Mobile Broadband services in 1,137 unserved mauzas and laying 1,078 km of optical fiber cable in the remote areas of Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan”, said Haaris Mahmood. “As soon as the infrastructure deployment of the project is completed, over 06 Million people will have access to the internet, which will be a great accomplishment in relation to achieving socio-economic benefits and development outcomes.”
Similar contracts have been awarded to other networks for expanding network coverage in areas of Sindh, the Southern Punjab and the KP, he said. “USF has also launched a new program called the ‘Next Generation Optical Fiber Network & Services Program’ to connect the Union Councils of the country”, said Haaris Mahmood. In addition to this, he added that USF will be awarding new contracts for connecting union councils and small towns with approximately 1,100 kms of OFC in the coming days.
“Pakistan has experienced phenomenal growth in terms of teledensity of mobile subscribers over the years and I believe that the digital divide is narrowing, as more internet connections are built and smartphones become more affordable, said Haaris Mahmood.
Haaris Mahmood was all praises for the current government’s IT policy that supports the USF’s initiatives. He exemplified the statement by comparing last year’s launch of 12 projects to a launch of 20 projects in the current year.
He said around PKR 10 Billion will be spent on these projects that includes:
(1) High Speed Mobile Broadband access to 11 million people in 4,025 unserved and underserved muazas in Balochistan, Punjab, Sindh and KP.
(2) Laying down of an estimated 837 km of Optic Fiber Cable (OFC) in districts of Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, FR Kohat and FR Peshawar to connect 40 unserved Tehsil Headquarters and Major Towns.
(3) An estimated 3,815 km of OFC in the districts of Ghotki, Kashmore, Sukkur, Khairpur, Naushahro Feroze, Shaheed Benazirabad, Khairpur, Rajanpur, Muzaffargarh, DG Khan, Layyah & DG Khan for expanding OFC connectivity up to unserved Union Councils’ level.
Under these programs, each project specifies clear and measurable objectives including coverage and service delivery targets.
He said that these programs are helping USF to create a positive impact at the grassroots level and helping the Government in achieving the Digital Pakistan vision.