The Universal Service Fund (USF) has spent around Rs. 56.013 billion to date, but some of the un-served and under-served areas in Balochistan, as well as South Waziristan and Kurram districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, still lack access to basic telephony and mobile broadband services.
USF was created in 2007 to stretch cellular, broadband internet, fiber optics and other telecommunication services to un-served or underserved areas. All telecom companies have been contributing 1.5 percent of their revenues to the fund.
Officials revealed that USF has over Rs. 32 billion in balance and spent Rs. 56.418 billion during the last ten years for the expansion of telecommunication services to the under-served and un-served areas of the country.
USF officials maintained that despite massive growth there were many areas that remained underserved. The challenges, they asserted, that the USF faced were 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 areas which do not support business plans of telecom operators, the government subsidizes projects for them to reach the under-served and un-served.
According to 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).
Telecommunication coverage was around 44 percent before USF launched in 2006-07 which reached around 75 percent during the last ten years while covering 6,225 mauzas.
An official said that “Broadband for Sustainable Development” program, under the USF, is designed to provide telecom services to the un-served mauzas across the country. After issuance of 3G/4G licenses 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, 844 BTS have been installed and 6225 mauzas have been covered.
Optic fiber programme is another initiative under USF aims to promote the development of telecommunication services in un-served and under-served rural areas to enable affordable, voice, telephony and basic data services. This also requires the establishment of a stable and reliable optic fiber network in all corners of the country.
This project aims to extend optic fiber connectivity to the un-served Tehsil headquarters for meeting the growing requirements of voice, data, and video in these areas.
Extending fiber cables to tehsils help the telecom service providers in extending all kinds of telecom services to those areas. It is like building information motor-ways to all tehsils. Under this program, 6,447 km optic fiber has been laid while 56 tehsils and 26 towns have been connected.
Under special projects, several initiatives have been started including ICTs for girls, the establishment of 13 computer labs in selected institutions, enabling persons with disabilities to use telecom services, telemedicine network & services, the establishment of telecenters, and empowerment of craft SMEs through e-commerce.