MUZAFFARABAD: Telecom services in the picturesque Neelum Valley of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), that were once the worst, have been upgraded.

Col Mohammad Ali Nadeem, AJK Sector Commander of Special Communication Organisation (SCO), a subsidiary of the Pakistan Army, told Dawn that the telecom company had not only improved its fixed line phone services, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) internet services but also upgraded its mobile telephone service (GSM) across the state, particularly in the areas popular with tourists.

Although the rest of AJK was thrown open to multinational cellular companies after the 2005 earthquake, Neelum and Leepa valleys in Muzaffarabad Division and Haveli district in Poonch Division, that straddle the heavily militarised Line of Control (LoC), remained an exception apparently because of the alleged security concerns.

Residents of these areas were discontent with SCO’s fixed line phone service in general and mobile phone facility, SCOM, in particular.

Explaining the reason for the lack of communication services in these areas Col Nadeem said the difficult terrain had made it hard to provide better services before.

“Even if multinational companies had been allowed to operate there, trust me, no one would have ventured out there because of the difficult terrain and the small expected revenues”, he said.

Citing the shifting of two base transceiver stations (BTS) by a multinational cellular company from the Jhelum Valley, reportedly because of low returns, he said SCO would not be doing the same. “We cannot do that because we are not here to make profits but to serve the public,” he added.

He explained that 35 of the 90 DSL BTS installed by SCO were making just about Rs2,000 against a maintenance cost of Rs11,000 per day but these would not be closed or moved to another place. “No matter what the weather is like, our teams are always ready for the maintenance of the network,” he added.

Col Nadeem said 11 DSL BTS had been installed in the Neelum Valley and that another 4 were to be installed soon to boost services.

“Mobile services have been extended to Kel, in the upper part of the valley, and DSL facilities have also been made available in almost all towns,” Col Nadeem added.

The company has also introduced tourist SIM cards in the Neelum Valley, he said. Col Nadeem said DSL and mobile phone services had also been introduced in Leepa Valley, though on a limited scale in the beginning.

Due to better conditions along the LoC and an improved road network between Muzaffarabad and Athmuqam, there has been an increase in the number of tourists visiting Neelum valley, though up till two years ago, they had to face a complete telecommunication cut off.

Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2016