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ISLAMABAD: Over 11.5 million Pakistanis in rural areas will benefit from 4G connectivity under the joint efforts of Jazz and the Universal Service Fund (USF) by the end of Q1, 2023.

Sharing details with Business Recorder, Jazz CEO Aamir Ibrahim stated: “USF is one of the most important organizations in the quest to bridge the digital divide, establishing a firm foundation for a digital Pakistan. Jazz’s goals and ambitions are matched by the USF, and we have partnered to provide high-speed mobile broadband in underserved and unserved regions, including M-3 and M-5 motorways along with some popular tourist destinations such as Babusar Top, Saif ul Malook Lake, Sharan, Siran valley, Galyat, Kumrat valley and Mahodand Lake”.

With a contribution of approximately Rs 24 billion, Jazz is a key partner to USF, working on 26 high-speed mobile broadband projects, including 725 new cellular sites and up-gradation of 616 sites, that will proliferate the benefits of connectivity in rural areas connecting over 11.5 million citizens in over 5,200 mauzas, he added.

However, Aamir said that expanding connectivity is only the first step towards digital proliferation.

“Jazz is playing a pivotal role in developing an inclusive digital ecosystem, and under our ‘4G for all’ ambition we have invested more than $ 560 million dollars in the last two years towards network expansion and up-gradation – taking our 4G population coverage to 65 percent.

To truly empower Pakistan’s unconnected population and prioritize digital inclusivity, infrastructure is only the first step. Under our digital operator strategy, we are pursuing a three-pronged approach; expanding the outreach and capacity of our 4G network specially in semi-urban and rural areas with consistent investment; strengthening our digital services portfolio to serve as our customers’ digital lifestyle partner; and driving financial inclusion with Pakistan’s leading fintech JazzCash”.

GSMA’s 2021 Gender Gap study showcases that 50 percent of women own a mobile phone compared with 81 percent of men, while women are 49 percent less likely to use mobile internet than men in Pakistan.

Aamir has suggestions on expanding the role of USF to accelerate Digital Pakistan, saying, “USF has been proactive in picking up pace and increasing its number of coverage projects to expand telecom services. However, scope of funds utilization should practically go beyond telecom infrastructure to address barriers to internet usage, including smart phone affordability, content, and cultural limitations preventing certain segments of the population, especially women, from owning devices”.

Talking about Jazz’s recent collaboration with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to reduce the gender gap in usage of ICTs, Aamir said: “While Jazz commits to accelerating digital gender equality, it is promising to see PTA joining hands with telecom operators to enhance representation of women across ICT. Moreover, Jazz has also committed to increase the proportion of female mobile internet users by 8 percent by end of 2023 with a dedicated focus on female smart phone ownership. We also have programmes in place to enhance digital literacy among girls, maximize female led enterprises in the startup ecosystem, promote diversity and inclusion within the workplace and enable women to access health, financial, and other life-enhancing services through mobile broadband”.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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