ISLAMABAD: The Universal Service Fund (USF), a subsidiary of the federal information technology ministry, has declined to launch telecom projects in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir insisting that the two regions are constitutionally not part of the country and the cellular mobile companies could object to the utilisation of the amount generated in Pakistan there.

The USF was asked by Gilgit-Baltistan Chief Minister Khalid Khurshid in a recent meeting that the domain of the USF should be extended to Gilgit-Baltistan as soon as possible to improve internet connectivity in the region and make the facility available in remote areas.

President Dr Arif Alvi chaired the meeting, which discussed ways and means to improve internet service in Gilgit-Baltistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.

Universal Service Fund says two regions not part of Pakistan constitutionally, cellular companies can object to spending

The GB CM said the recent 3G and 4G spectrum auctions would help improve telecom and internet services in GB but as the region had no internet service provider, there were problems regarding the internet facility.

However, the senior management of the USF declined to extend the sought-after services to GB saying the region is ‘constitutionally out of the country’.

IT and telecom minister Syed Aminul Haq suggested that the matter be forwarded to the law ministry to know if the USF Pakistan can spend its funds in GB and AJK regions.

He also said the contributions to USF Pakistan were made by the companies operating in Pakistan and therefore, any of the four mobile operators could object to the spending of the amount in GB and AJK.

The meeting was informed that the USF was a subsidiary of the IT and telecom ministry to expand the internet and telecom services to remote areas of the country, where the telecom companies and internet service providers didn’t enter as such areas were not commercially viable.

The fund consists of 1.5 per cent of adjusted revenues of the telecom operators and various contracts for the development of IT and telecom infrastructure are awarded through auction, while the amount is paid from the fund.

The telecom minister also said the other option was to amend the relevant rules to allow the USF to work as an agent for GB and AJK councils and execute their projects from the fund contributed by four telecom operators and SCO from their revenues.

The meeting was informed that currently, the USF Pakistan was working on more than 40 projects valuing over Rs35 billion in 70 districts of the country, but development projects were facing hurdles in several areas due to law and order situation in the erstwhile Fata and some districts of Balochistan province, including Kalat, Pangur and Turbat. Besides the ‘error threats’, the tribal disputes is also causing deployment of cell sites in some parts of Balochistan.

The meeting was informed that the Punjab forest department, Cholistan Development Authority, Kirthar National Park, Sindh, and other authorities were not issuing NOCs for the establishment of telecom towers.

Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2022

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