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ISLAMABAD: The Cabinet Secretary-led committee constituted by the Executive Committee of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC) has set rates for laying optical fibre and related digital infrastructure along the Right of Way (ROW) at Rs30 per meter against Rs240 per meter proposed by Pakistan Railways.

The rate of Rs30 is equivalent to that of charged by the National Highways Authority (NHA).

Sources revealed to Business Recorder that in its meeting held on 27th September, 2023 at the Prime Minister’s Office, the Executive Committee of the SIFC constituted a committee comprising the cabinet secretary (lead), secretary information technology and telecommunication, secretary railways and secretary communications, with the direction that cabinet secretary would deliberate with the concerned ministries to find a resolution to the issue, particularly for laying the digital infrastructure and present the recommendation.

Optical fibre cable: Railways seeks time to review ROW policy

Official sources said the issue was deliberated upon on 9th and 10th October 2023 with the concerned secretaries and their teams, including representatives of the Pakistan Railways and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority.

During these deliberations, the matters examined included inter alia the revenue and expenditure structure of Pakistan Railways, the losses they are currently incurring, and the loss of potential earnings if they were to charge the same rates for laying of optical fibre and related digital infrastructure along their ROW that are being charged by the NHA rather than their own proposed, considerably higher, rates.

After a detailed analysis, the committee reached the consensus that the loss of potential revenue to Pakistan Railways by charging NHA rates (estimated at around Rs600 million per annum when worked out on the basis of NHA rates and the medium-term ROW requirements of telecom operators) was a small fraction of the total annual expenditure of Pakistan Railways (which stood at Rs110.75 billion during the financial year 2022-23).

The committee was of the collective view that this loss of potential revenue to Pakistan Railways is inconsequential in comparison to the very significant benefits that would accrue to the economy as a whole by the reduction in Pakistan Railways’ proposed ROW rates and the consequent facilitation of digital communications infrastructure expansion in the country.

It was accordingly decided that the Pakistan Railways shall, in the larger interest of the economy, charge the same rates for laying of optical fibre and related digital infrastructure along their ROW that are currently being charged by the NHA, from all telecom operators that apply by 31 December 2024, over the term of their contracts, which shall be five years, extendable for another term of five years.

Sources said that since the matter has been resolved through consensus, it does not need to be taken to SIFC again, as confirmed by the chairman Executive Committee SIFC.

Therefore, Pakistan Railways shall, with immediate effect, charge the same rates throughout the country from telecom operators for laying of optical fibre and related digital infrastructure along their ROW that are being charged by the NHA. These rates shall be notified accordingly forthwith.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023

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