ISLAMABAD: In a major development, the government allowed private telecommunication and internet companies on Friday to sign agreements with neighbouring countries for internet services and telephone traffic using satellite, wireless and submarine networks.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the Economic Coordination Commit­tee (ECC) of the cabinet presided over by Finance Minister Ishaq Dar.

It will enable long distance and international (LDI) licencees to establish cross-border communication links. “Such links may be established using fixed wireline (landline), terrestrial wireless, submarine cables or satellite technologies subject to approval by the Pakistan Telecommunication Autho­ri­ty (PTA) and if necessary, by relevant authorities in neighbouring countries.”

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The policy does not name any neighbouring country but an official said it would apply to “all neighbouring countries” — Afghanistan, India, China and Iran.

Private companies given permission to sign agreements with neighbouring countries

But there are some conditions. For example, any bilateral link will be terminated at a legally established peering point or landing station in Pakistan and prior approval will be obtained for any spectrum used from Frequency Allocation Board (FAB) in Pakistan and the relevant regulatory authority of the neighbouring state where the cross-border link terminates. The prescribed segment of the ITU (Internat­ional Telecommuni­ca­tion Union) will be used for interference protection in relation to any wireless communication to prevent interference on both sides of the border by FAB and prior approval will be obtained for any proposed use of satellite communication by respective operators.

All security-related requirements as specified by the PTA in consultation with security agencies will have to be complied with and the PTA will facilitate the process for approval and issuance of NOC for establishment of cross-border links.

Requests to that effect will be evaluated by a committee comprising the chairman of the PTA, and a representative from Interior Ministry, Cabinet Di­­v­ision, Ministry of IT, and security ag­­e­ncies. The approval or denial of a req­u­e­st for a cross-border link will be gran­ted in a timely manner ensuring that in any case it may not exceed six weeks.

The policy recognises that technological innovations were leading to new methods of service provision, particularly in services provided over broadband networks. Instead of embedding services in a network, services could be delivered “over-the-top” of the telecommunications network. This innovation means that there are opportunities for efficiently locating service delivery elements, reducing cost and the possibility of new business models.

The opportunity to provide services is open to new businesses, both domestic and foreign. It is expected that the telecommunication market will attract entry from many more service providers and will lead to changes in market character and structure.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2015