The Universal Service Fund (USF) has spent around Rs 68.186 billion to extend cellular, broadband internet, fibre optics and other telecommunication services to un-served or underserved areas but some areas in Balochistan as well as South Waziristan and Kurram areas of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa still lack access to basic telephony and mobile broadband services. The USF was created in 2007 to stretch cellular, broadband internet, fibre optics and other telecommunication services to un-served or underserved areas.
USF Spent Rs. 68.186 Bn to Extend Telecom Services to un-served Areas
All telecom companies have been contributing 1.5 percent of their revenues to the USF.
Official’s documents revealed that USF had around Rs30 billion in balance, and spent Rs68.186 billion since its inception for expansion of telecommunication services to the under-served and un-served areas of the country. Despite massive growth, there were many areas that remained underserved.
The challenges, according to officials, that the USF faced, were rugged terrains, sparse population, harsh weather, lack of electricity, 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 areas which do not support business plans of telecom operators, the government subsidises projects there to reach the under-served and un-served.
According to documents, of the total Rs68.186 billion subsidy, Ufone took major chunk of subsidy i.e. Rs18.219 billion (26.72 percent), PTCL, Rs16.134 billion (23.6 percent), Telenor, Rs18.184 billion (26.67 percent), Zong, Rs5.613 billion (8.23 percent), Wateen, Rs4.847 (7.11 percent), World Call, Rs1.273 billion (1.87 percent), and Jazz, Rs2.25 billion (3.3 percent).
Telecommunication coverage was around 44 percent before USF-2006-07, which reached around 74 percent since the creation of USF. Official said broadband for sustainable development programme under the USF was designed to provide telecom services to the un-served mauzas across the country.
After issuance of 3G/4G licences by the federal government, this programme has been redesigned to include the broadband equivalent data (internet) services as a compulsory component. For new projects, powering of the telecommunication site through solar energy was also made a part of each project.
According to documents, 1159 BTS have been installed and 7116 mauzas have been covered.
Optic fibre programme is another initiative under USF that aims to promote development of telecommunication services in un-served and under-served rural areas to make available and affordable the voice telephony and basic data services.
This requires also the establishment of a stable and reliable optic fibre network in all corners of the country. This project aims to extend the optic fibre connectivity to the un-served tehsil headquarters for meeting the growing requirements of voice, data and video in these areas.
An official said that the government is planning to amend the USF rules and expand its scope by including e-education and e-health. A proposal was under consideration with respect to suspending telecom operators’ contribution of 1.5 percent of their annual revenue to USF. However, no final decision has been taken yet. The government as per its Digital Pakistan vision is considering expanding the scope of USF and introducing e-education and e-health, the official added.