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ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT), through the Universal Service Fund (USF), has launched seven projects worth over Rs8 billion to provide broadband services to over 2.5 million people in the unserved and underserved areas of the four provinces, including Rs3.5 billion projects for Balochistan.

The projects were approved here on Monday at the 81stmeeting of the Board of Directors of the USF. The number of projects for providing optical fiber cable and broadband services from 2018 to date has reached a record 56 and the total cost (subsidy) has exceeded Rs52 billion.

The meeting was chaired by Secretary IT and Telecom and USF Board chairman Dr Muhammad Sohail Rajput, while PTA Chairman Major General Amir Azeem Bajwa (Retired), Member Telecom Muhammad Umar Malik, CEO Telenor Irfan Wahab Khan, Imran Akhtar Shah, Kokab Iqbal, Sibte Hassan Gardezi and other officials were present. Chief Executive Officer USF Haris Mahmood Chaudhry gave a detailed briefing to the Board about the projects.

Federal Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunication Syed Aminul Haque said that whatever the political situation, the MoITT and its subsidiaries, especially the USF, continue to perform. Continuing is a solid demonstration of our commitment to connecting people in remote areas of the country to the digital world.

He said that the completion of all the projects started during the tenure of the present government was being ensured within the stipulated time while for all the projects under the rules only the lowest bidding telecom operators were selected.

Dr Rajput said that the provision of broadband services to the residents of the un-served and under-served areas of the country is as much needed as for the big cities.

He said that while the implementation of projects for the four provinces has been ensured under the rules and regulations, the projects worth PKR 3.57 billion have been approved in principle, giving special importance to the deprived Balochistan.

Dr Rajput further said that although the wide area of Balochistan and the provision of broadband services to the spread population is costlier than any other area, but the Board under the direction of Haque always included in our priorities.

According to the projects approved at the USF Board of Directors meeting, the project to provide 4G services in Qila Saifullah and Zhob in Balochistan has been awarded to Pak Telecom Mobile Limited (Ufone) with total subsidy is Rs3.57 billion, while the completion period would be 18 months. The project would facilitate to more than 100,000population of 111 villages spread over an area of 8,408 sq km.

The plan to provide broadband services in Jhang, Bhakkar and Toba Tek Singh districts of Punjab has been given to Pakistan Mobile Company Limited (Jazz) on which the amount of subsidy given is Rs2.25 billion with one-year completion time. In a short span of time, facilities will be provided to a population of over one million in 722 villages spread over an area of 8,925 sq km.

The meeting also approved the project of uninterrupted Voice and Broadband services on 95 km section of Hakla DI Khan Motorway connecting Dera Ismail Khan, Lakki Marwat, Mianwali, Attock and Rawalpindi districts to Jazz at a subsidy of PKR 375.33 million.

Similarly, a plan to provide broadband service in six Mauzas on the outskirts of Islamabad has been handed over to Jazz at a cost of Rs11 million. A project to provide mobile services in a Mauza of Mandi Bahauddin has also been handed over to Jazz at a cost of Rs22.6 million.

Under optical fiber cable (OFC) program, 555 km long fiber optical cable laying project in Larkana and Qambar ShahdadKot districts of Sindh has been given to PTCL with total subsidy of PKR 1.61 billion and completion period is one year. By connecting the 62 union councils of these districts, it will be possible to provide high speed connectivity to the population of more than 1.2 million.

Another project under Optical Fiber Cable Program, the PTCL was also given a project to lay 106 km long cable for a population of more than 136,000 in six Union Councils of Haripur and Islamabad out of total cost PKR 410 million, the subsidy approved of Rs235 million.

The USF Board of Directors has approved in principle the appointment of Alia Afridi from among the three shortlisted names after interviews of 37 candidates on the recommendations of the Human Resource Committee for the post of Company Secretary in the USF.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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