ISLAMABAD: The Universal Service Fund (USF) has decided to award contracts worth approximately Rs8.81 billion to provide high-speed mobile broadband services to more than six million people in un-served and under-served areas of Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and tribal areas (erstwhile Fata) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The contracts were won by Telenor, Ufone and Jazz and optic fibre cable contracts were awarded to Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited (PTCL).

In its recent meeting, the USF board, chaired by IT Secretary Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui, stressed the need for giving special attention to the tribal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that were earlier considered troubled and dangerous due to presence of terrorists and criminal elements there.

After establishment of peace in these districts, the USF board approved award of contracts under the optic fibre cable programme to PTCL for Bajaur, Mohmand, Khyber, Orakzai, Kurram, Frontier Region Peshawar and Frontier Region Kohat.

The optic fibre cable projects are valued at approximately Rs4.65bn that aim to lay 1,466km of optical fibre cable to provide high-speed mobile broadband services to an un-served population of approximately 5.01 million people.

Projects to lay optic fibre cable has also been approved for Naushahro Feroze, Shaheed Benazirabad and Khairpur districts in Sindh.

The board approved award of contracts under the Next Generation Broadband for Sustainable Development programme worth around Rs4.7bn to Telenor, Ufone and Jazz that will benefit an un-served population of approximately 0.98 million and an approximate un-served area of 86,773sq-km.

Telenor is being awarded the contract for Chagai and Nushki districts in Balochistan that will serve an un-served population of around 0.16m in 170 un-served muazas and an approximate un-served area of 47,872sq-km. Ufone is being awarded the contract for Gwadar, Kech and Panjgur districts in Balochistan that will benefit an un-served population of approximately 0.48m in 377 un-served muazas and approximately 34,899sq-km of un-served area.

Similarly, Jazz is being awarded the contract for Jhelum and Chakwal districts in Punjab that will benefit an un-served population of approximately 0.34m in 263 un-served muazas and an approximate un-served area of 4,002sq-km.

Meanwhile, federal Minister for IT and Telecommunication Syed Aminul Haque in his message congratulated the chairman of the USF board, the CEO and other board members on presenting record broadband projects.

He said that the Ministry of IT and Telecommunication and its subsidiary departments had a significant responsibility to enhance connectivity to the population amid social distancing due to Covid-19 and an environment of online learning and digital businesses.

During the meeting, special focus was given to far-flung areas of Balochistan and the tribal areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Addressing the meeting, the federal Secretary of IT and Telecommunication and Chairman of USF Board, Shoaib Ahmad Siddiqui, said that the main objective of these projects is to provide facilities to those living in the remote areas with either no access to internet or struggling with poor connectivity.

He also said that the Ministry of IT and Telecommunication is working expeditiously to accomplish the vision of Digital Pakistan. Moreover, he said, after establishment of peace in the most backward areas like Gwadar, Chagai, Kech and other dangerous tribal areas, the substantial amount of subsidy for optic fibre cable contracts is a proof that the Ministry of IT and Telecommunication is leaving no stone unturned to provide information and communication technologies (ICTs) to every citizen of Pakistan.

Referring to the board meeting on Oct 19, he said that the board had approved projects worth over Rs5.11bn for the provision of mobile phone connectivity and broadband services to the remote and backward areas of Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

Thus, he added, in the first half of the current financial year, the USF board has approved a record number of projects worth over Rs13.92bn to transform the lives of over 10 million people and this is a testament to the excellent performance of the Ministry of IT and Telecommunication and the Universal Service Fund.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2020

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