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ISLAMABAD: A court has allowed the Special Communications Organisa­tion (SCO) to operate 3G and 4G mobile services on a trial basis in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and stayed the telecom regulatory body’s decision to allow other private operators to launch the service in the mountainous region.

A two-judge bench of the Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Court (GBCC) comprising Justice Haq Nawaz and Justice Muhammad Umar admitted a petition filed by the SCO, the telecommunication wing of the army, for hearing and issued notices to the respondents to submit their comments within a month.

The petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn, was filed on April 18 under Article 71 of the GB Empowerment and Self-Governance Order 2009, challenging the Pakistan Telecommunication Autho­rity’s (PTA) decision of issuing licences to cellular networks for launching 3G and 4G spectrum in the mountainous region.

The petitioner through its counsel Adnan Hussain made the Gilgit-Baltistan Council, PTA, Frequency Allocation Board and the GB government as respondents.

Zong had announced to launch 3G and 4G services in GB from May 5 after getting the licence. The SCO has a monopoly over operating communication service in GB and Azad and Jammu Kashmir (AJK).

The court issued ad-interim injunction, suspended the operation of the letter issued by the PTA on Feb 23 and sought comments from the respondents within a month.

After receiving the comments, the bench will initiate hearing of the case, the order said.

The petitioner contended that the licences issued to other private operators for launching 3G and 4G service was “unlawful authority”. The auction of 3G and 4G spectrum in GB was an attempt by the PTA to restrain the ongoing services on a trial basis being delivered by the petitioner, it maintained.

The bench held that the petitioner’s “apprehensions of an irreparable loss seem to be well founded and turning the prayed injunction down, that too, at the very initial stage will end up making the communication system, which is a brainchild of the petitioner, a Frankenstein for it”.

The court directed the parties to maintain the status quo till the final disposal of the petition.There have been complaints from the users about the SCO’s poor quality and speed of mobile service in the region. Residents have been demanding the telecom authorities allow other cellular firms to operate in the region so that they could exercise their fundamental right to choice of service and ensure quality cellular service in a competitive atmosphere.

The SCO claims that it is facing an annual loss of Rs1 billion due to its limited powers of providing telecom services in AJK and GB only, despite the fact that the government meets all financial needs of the SCO to ensure its smooth operation.

“The SCO takes 80 per cent of the IT ministry’s budget every fiscal year,” said an official from the ministry.

The SCO has been seeking a free licence, tax exemption on its income, assets, turnover and sales and custom duties on imports and exports as well as continued funding from the government.

The SCO was established in 1976 to develop, operate and maintain telecommunications services in AJK and GB. The organisation provides telecom services at 141 locations in AJK and 85 in GB.

Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2018