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ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication has drafted “National Broadband Policy-2021” targeting the contribution of digital/broadband development on economy to the tune of $5 billion investment and $20 billion revenue by 2025.

The draft policy also envisages up to eight percent contribution towards the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from digital/broadband development in the next four years.

One of the objectives of the draft policy is to ensure that 100 percent population living in tier-2/3 cities should have access to high-speed internet, an average per user internet speeds of 50Mbps in major cities and facilitate 75 percent of the internet users with digital bank accounts by 2025.

The draft policy aims at addressing some of the specific challenges; (i) the need for affordable access to broadband for all; (ii) to address the challenges concerning digital divide especially in unserved and underserved areas nationwide; (iii) overcoming the challenges in rolling out the required digital infrastructure and related financing models including extensive fiberization and efficient spectrum management; (iv) harmonization of existing tax regime on telecommunication services; (v) stimulating the development of local and relevant content and services; (vi) the need for improved and consistent broadband quality of service; (vii) urging the importance digital trust over telecommunication networks to promote wider use of digital technologies in all spheres of life; (viii) understanding the impact of internet in terms of socio-cultural developments, economic growth, and environmental sustainability; (x) lowering barriers for investments applied on existing licensees and for new investors in telecom sector and promoting public-private partnerships; and (xi) challenges vis-à-vis accelerated evolution towards adoption of Xth Generation technologies and fiberization, necessary for improving the state of broadband infrastructure.

The policy envisaged for furthering the initiative of “Digital Pakistan”, it is pivotal to craft a policy vision which is user-centric, market-oriented, simple to govern and all-inclusive in nature, laying a strong foundation to address outstanding issues expediently and explore new opportunities in the most agile manner.

The National Broadband Policy–2021 aims to; “revitalise the state of telecommunication by accelerating the efforts for digital inclusion of every citizen in any corner of the country to gain universal access to high speed affordable internet, enhance the use of digital space by providing equal opportunity for socio-economic wellbeing in a safe, responsible and healthy environment through evolving policy and regulatory measures required for timely and sustainable adoption of cutting edge technologies and digital infrastructure”.

The policy objectives include, (i) to address the challenges of internet access by fast tracking the penetration of digital access, optimizing the use of existing infrastructure and equitable distribution of digital dividends through need-based policy interventions; (ii) for the early inclusion of digitally-divided people, promote service based and open competition, rationalise taxes and offer essential incentives for reducing the cost of inclusivity; (iii) for the socio-economic wellbeing, enhance the awareness of using the internet/digital services for learning and earning; (iv) Xth Generation internet service and technology readiness and enablement; (v) to improve the availability of internet by localising content and inducing a culture of indigenous research and innovation at the grassroots for addressing societal challenges and exploring opportunities through effective and efficient use of digital/internet space; (vi) to plan and optimise infrastructure/resources available with national and provincial governments/state organisations for improving the delivery of internet/digital services in synergies and partnerships and for a purposeful adoption and humanisation of Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), develop a roadmap for harnessing evolving communication technologies, and to create an enabling environment through necessary facilitation and appropriate regulation.

The user-centric policy drivers on which the foundation of the National Broadband Policy – 2021 is laid consists of the following four major pillars.

The 1st pillar will focus on the digitally divided people who are yet to be digitally included and will provide guidelines regarding use of existing fiber resources, facilitating infrastructure sharing, introducing national broadband networks and its role in the development of sustainable broadband infrastructure in public-private partnerships, reviewing the role of USF for sustainable penetration of broadband services in unserved and underserved areas of the country further enhancing the capability for use of already laid infrastructure, further assessing the rolling spectrum strategy and offering interventions for resource optimization as well as roadmap for inclusion of new mobile spectrum bands, facilitating the provisioning of rights of ways, plan for commercial use of data satellite and proposal for smartphone adoption and increased local manufacturing of internet devices/terminals in Pakistan.

The 2nd pillar will help in organising matters related to enhancing the use of internet and for market enablement such as; roadmap for service-based competition, review of licensing framework, outlining the future course of OTT platforms and content management, broadening the role of Ignite as research and innovation enabler, facilitating the cloud infrastructure and internet exchange points, reviewing the quality of service rules for improving user experience, developing and implementing new services and technologies in public-private partnerships, supporting with necessary infrastructure and services for enabling social services in the digital space.

The 3rd pillar will emphasise on the privacy and protection of user consuming internet and will help in creating awareness and propose a framework for securing identity and data online, ease of access for reporting criminal activity online, guidelines for constituting CERTs, standardising and implementing user privacy, propose common operating environment and standards for internet security, environment protection support, framework for standardising new technologies and services.

The 4th and final pillar of the policy would help user by providing a transformational roadmap for legacy services and technologies, review the role of different public sector organisations responsible for facilitating different telecommunication services, plan for adopting open source technologies and platforms, broadly identify future technologies and make provisions for early adoption, propose broad strategy for the adoption of internet of everything, and last but not the least provide guideline for international cooperation in ICTs.

For enhancing the implementation capacity of broadband plans and strategies through special funding instruments for aiding the economic structure based on thorough market analysis and benchmarking, the ITU Broadband Commission advocates to align National Broadband Targets with international action plan until 2025.

With a focus on the early digital financial inclusion of millennial population, it is anticipated that Pakistan can achieve the targets given below well before time due to propelling digital culture in the country.

These target are to ensure that 100 percent population living in tier-2/3 cities should have access to high-speed internet by 2025, more than 75 percent of metropolis, district, town, tehsil and union council should be connected with optical fiber cable-based fixed/wireless access network with an average per user internet speeds of 50Mbps in major cities of Pakistan by 2025, every social and welfare service facility such as; schools, hospitals, courts, police/fire stations, district/union council offices should have access to broadband internet services with at least 50Mbps connectivity by 2025, more than 75 percent of businesses and commercial facilities should have access to high-speed fixed and mobile broadband internet by 2025, every internet user to have ownership of at least one latest smartphone(s) and/or device(s).

To introduce next wave of fixed and mobile services and ensure coverage in 25 percent of the cities in Pakistan by 2025 and another 75 percent cities/towns by 2030 while accommodating technological evolution and resource optimisation on the go, to facilitate 75 percent of internet users with digital bank accounts by 2025, develop and operationalise at least five carrier-neutral Internet Exchange Points and cloud data centres in public-private partnerships by 2030.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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