The Universal Service Fund (USF) has spent Rs 57 billion but failed in providing telecommunication services across the country, as most of the un-served and under served areas in Balochistan, Khyber, Mohmand, South Waziristan and Kurram still lack access to basic telephony and mobile broadband services.
This was revealed in the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunication, which met with Rubina Khalid in the chair.
Officials informed the committee that USF has over Rs 30.25 billion in balance and spent Rs 57 billion during the last ten years for expansion of telecommunication services to the under-served and un-served areas of the country.
Telecommunication coverage was around 44 percent before USF-2006-07 which has reached to around 74 percent during the last ten years while covering 6725 un-served areas.
Chairman USF was of the view that despite massive growth there were many areas that remained underserved. The challenges, he asserted, that the USF faced were rugged terrains, sparse population, harsh weather, lack of electricity, no backhaul, and poor logistics.
While discussing telecommunication coverage status, Senator Sana Jamali inquired why certain areas such as Jhal Magsi, Dera Bugti, Nasirabad and Jaffarabad were not being catered. Chairman USF revealed that a major hurdle in the expansion was security clearance in these areas without which things cannot move forward.
Committee member Sajjad Turi said that there is no law and order challenge in Kurram, but people lack access to telecommunication services. USF officials said that they are yet to get NoC from security agencies for working in South Waziristan, North Waziristan, Aurakzai and Kurram while work was started in Mohmand, Bajaur and Khyber lots, but suspended due to security concerns.
Senator Abdul Ghafoor Haideri said that mobile services are suspended for around eight months in areas of Balochistan like Qilat where no security concern exists. Member Telecom of IT Ministry informed that Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) suspends phone services on the recommendation from security agencies. The committee decided to seek PTA view on the matter in the next meeting.
While discussing various projects being run by the USF it was revealed that special programs have been launched to empower women. The Chairman revealed that 100 ICT labs have been established in Women Empowerment Centers run by Pakistan Bait-ul-Maal in which 100 master trainers have been trained by Microsoft. In addition to this, he asserted that special ICT projects have been launched for the disabled in the last financial year.
While discussing E-commerce Craft MSME/SME Project, Chairman USF informed the Committee that as a result of the project 1000 artisans will be selected and this e-commerce portal will be used to portray their products. Chairperson Committee, Senator Khalid commended the project and said that it would be a great help for artisans in Pakistan.