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ISLAMABAD: The Universal Service Fund (USF) Board approved the award of eight contracts worth over Rs 10 billion to provide internet connectivity to about 3.3 million people through high-speed broadband services and optic fiber cable (OFC) connectivity in the un-served and under-served areas of four provinces.

The contracts were awarded to Jazz, PTCL, Ufone, and Telenor. The completion time for all projects would be 16 months from the date of contract signing. The USF Board also approved the annual budget of USF for the fiscal year 2022-23, over Rs 32 billion. The Secretary MoITT and Chairman USF Board, Mohsin Mushtaq Chandna, chaired the 82nd Board of Directors (BoD) meeting of USF on Thursday.

Federal Minister for IT and Telecom Syed Aminul Haque in his message, said: “From July 2018 to June 2022, USF has launched a record 57 projects of worth Rs 62 billion which speaks volumes about its performance and a proof of its commitment to connect all the un/under-served communities of Pakistan, enabling them to compete better in an economic environment that is constantly changing in response to technology evolutions”.

He said that the USF annual development budget for digital connectivity has been increased from Rs 18 billion to Rs 31 billion in 2022-23 which will increase connectivity in backward areas and strengthen ICT activities.

“Efforts are being made to eliminate digital disparities in urban and rural areas. To this end, USF has launched projects in remote and backward areas of the four provinces of the country” he added.

Haque said that Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif wants to increase ICT exports. This is possible only if broadband services are available in rural and backward areas as well as urban areas so that talented young ICT professionals can not only get decent jobs through the ICT but also play their role in stabilising the national economy.

Secretary MoITT and Chairman USF Board Chandna said: “Under the leadership of Federal Minister, Syed Aminul Haque, Ministry of IT and Telecommunication through USF is accelerating its efforts in enabling the rural and remote communities of Pakistan with access to a better standard of living and financial opportunities”.

The Chief Executive Officer of USF, Haaris Mahmood Chaudhary, apprised the Board members about the current projects. He said: “USF is ending the fiscal year 2021-22 with record performance and aims to further build its momentum and break all previous records in 2022-23”.

According to the details, the board approved the award of five high-speed mobile broadband contracts worth approximately Rs 5.25 billion to Jazz, Ufone and Telenor for providing 3G/4G services in the isolated districts of Punjab, Sindh and Balochistan.

These projects will benefit around 1.23 million people living in 1,011 unserved muazas of Lodhran, Vehari, Sheikhupura, Nankana Sahib, Kasur, Sialkot, Narowal and Gujrat districts in Punjab, Thatta, Sujawal, Tando Muhammad Khan, Badin, Hyderabad, Umarkot and Tando Allahyar in Sindh and Loralai in Balochistan, thereby covering an approximate unserved area of 10,574 sq. km.

Furthermore, the Board also approved the award of high-speed mobile broadband services for the National Highways and Motorways contract worth Rs 449 million to Jazz for providing 4G services to commuters on M-4 motorway respectively. Under this project, an unserved road segment of 70.67 km passing through districts of Hafizabad, Faisalabad, Toba Tek Singh, and Khanewal & Multan will be provided with 4G mobile internet connectivity.

The USF Board also approved the award of two OFC contracts worth approximately Rs 4.8 billion to PTCL for providing backhaul connectivity to 91 Union Councils (UCs) of Balochistan and KPK.

Under these projects, the USF will deploy a total of 884 km of OFC that will benefit over two million people in the districts of Gwadar in Balochistan and Peshawar, Nowshera, Charsadda, and Mardan in KPK. These projects are designed to connect 872 educational institutions, 391 government offices and 216 health institutions along with the mandatory connect of 527 BTS towers within a five-mile radius of the node.

Other board members comprising Muhamad Omar Malik, Member - Telecom, Ministry of IT and Telecommunication, Maj Gen Amir Azeem Bajwa (retired), Chairman PTA, Imran Akhtar Shah, VP for Government Sales, Super Net (Pvt) Ltd and Nominee of Data Licensees, Kaukab Iqbal, Chairman - Consumer Association of Pakistan and Nominee of Consumer Group and management of the USF also attended the meeting.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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