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ISLAMABAD: The government is planning to revise the legal and institutional framework of Universal Service Fund (USF), which has provided Rs 87 billion in subsidies during the last 15 years to expand telecommunication services in unserved and underserved areas of the country, it is learnt.

Official sources revealed that the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication has initiated the process of amending the rules and framework of the USF, which would be completed soon. There was a need to revise the legal and institutional framework of the Fund to make it more productive, efficient and accountable, sources added.

Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication Syed Amin ul Haque told Business Recorder that the 15-year journey of the USF was a success, but during the last three years, it has done much better than it has done in 12 years and this has been substantiated by data.

In 2018, only six projects were enrolled by the USF, 12 projects were enrolled in 2019, 25 projects in 2020, while a target of 28 projects has been set for the current year.

In the last 15 years, the USF has contracted 106 projects worth Rs 87 billion.

These projects will serve approximately 25 million people living in over 12,000 mauzas across the country. More than 10,500 kilometers of optic fiber cable has been laid and 1,929 km of unserved road segment has been connected under the National Highways and Motorways Programme, Haque added.

The total subsidiary incurred on the USF projects was Rs52 billion in the first 12 years, while in the last three years, the USF has spent Rs31 billion and during the current year, Rs 18 billion further has been earmarked for its projects.

The USF was established by the government of Pakistan under the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication in December 2006 to spread the benefits of the telecom revolution to all corners of Pakistan. The Fund is celebrating 15 years of empowering communities by making high-speed internet available and affordable for all.

During the last three years, the USF contracted over 40 projects worth Rs 31 billion, which shows its commitment to empower communities by bridging the digital divide between urban and rural communities, he added.

Dr Muhammad Sohail Rajput, Federal Secretary for IT and Telecom said that Pakistan has witnessed good growth in teledensity, mobile subscribers, and broadband services users.

The teledensity has reached 87 percent, mobile subscribers after a growth of nine percent reached 187 million active SIM, while mobile broadband users increased by 24 percent and reached 109 million during the last one year.

He said the data shows that the country is on path of increasing connectivity and better service delivery for digital economy.

The success of the USF is a good example of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) and shows how the collaboration of public and government leads to better service delivery.

In light of Prime Minister’s Digital Pakistan vision, the USF has worked diligently under the supervision of Federal Minster for IT and Telecom and launched record number of projects in the last three years, he added.

The Fund promotes the development of telecommunication services in unserved and underserved areas throughout the length and breadth of the country.

The fund consists of contributions by the telecom operators with no government funding involved.

This is a great example of PPP and role model for others to follow.

The USF’s core values of diversity, integrity, growth, innovation and teamwork have been the guiding principles for the company’s phenomenal growth over the years.

The USF company has rolled out several high-speed mobile broadband projects in under-served and unserved area of Pakistan. Optic Fibre Cable to Union Council Program has also been rolled out to create a digital highway for future technologies such as 5G.

Connectivity on Highways and Motorways Program has earned praise from national and international stakeholders alike.

The mission and vision of the Fund is to empower unserved and underserved communities through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to achieve a digitally inclusive Pakistan, said Chief Executive Officer (CEO) USF, Haris Mahmood Chaudhry. Improving lives of unserved and underserved communities by making high speed internet available and affordable for all, he added.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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