Universal Service Fund was established by the government of Pakistan (Ministry of Information Technology) to spread the benefits of telecom revolution to all corners of Pakistan. USF finances spread of telecom services to previously unserved or underserved areas. Telecom services include basic telephony, broadband internet, and infrastructure for those services (like Optic Fiber Cables) and community Tele-centers for those who cannot afford the necessary instruments/devices. It is worth mentioning that all licensed service providers contribute to the fund and that fund is disbursed in transparent manner through open bidding to subsidize necessary infrastructure in such areas where private sector telecom operators do not find a compelling enough business case. A brief over view of various programmes of USF during the last three years is given below:
a) Rural Telecom Programme: Under this programme telecom cover has been provided to 3,429 previously unserved Muzas whereas work is in progress in another 1,346 Mauzas. A note-worthy aspect of this programme is the establishment of PCOs in 552 Mauzas as shared access for those who cannot afford their own handsets. Total subsidy contracted for the completion of this programme so far is Rs. 4.2 billion, out of which a subsidy of Rs. 2.8 billion has been disbursed. In order to enhance the level of facilitation of rural telecom programme, 102 new Mauzas have recently been advertised for bidding for which bids are awaited in Balochistan.
b) Optic Fiber Connectivity Programme: “The Optic Fiber Connectivity to all Tehsils” aims to extend the reach of Optic Fiber to all unserved Tehsils of the country. In order to complete this project a subsidy of Rs. 4.5 billion was contracted out of which Rs. 2.5 billion has been disbursed. Under the umbrella of this programme, 36 previously unserved Tehsils have now been served with Optic Fibre Cables and presently work is in progress to equip another 20 Tehsils. Out of total 5,423km length of Optic Fiber Cable contracted, 3,061 km has been laid and another contract is ready for signature to serve 12 Tehsils with 1,100 km length of Optic Fiber Cable for underdeveloped Tehsils of Balochistan. Very recently an advertisement inviting fiber cable operators has been given in the newspapers and web sites to bid for a project in Khyber Pakhtoon Khwa.
c) Broadband Programme: This programme was launched with an aim to improve the Broadband penetration in all 2nd and 3rd tier urban areas which were unserved from Broadband perspective. USF has so far succeeded in providing 268,268 Broadband connections in 238 towns/cities. USF paid special attention to educational institutions where 841 higher secondary schools and colleges have been provided Broadband with 5-PC labs and work is in progress in another 230 higher secondary schools and colleges. Under the Broadband programme 240 Community Broadband Centers have also been established and 122 new towns/cities have been advertised for bidding. A total subsidy of Rs. 6.4 billion was so far contracted for Broadband programme.
Prime Minister Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani took keen interest in extending Telecom, Optic Fiber and Broadband programmes to unserved areas of the country. He has also given clear directions to USF to extend the above programmes to the remaining unserved areas of the country.
USF projects are not only affecting the communication infrastructure but are also playing their role in generating jobs and thus strengthening the economy. It is estimated that under Rural Telecom and e-Services (RTeS) programme approximately 1,200 direct jobs have been created whereas Broadband programme has generated around three hundred direct jobs and OFC projects have created around 550 direct jobs. However the main impact of ICT is that such projects will further create thousands of indirect jobs like Sales/Marketing of connections (including SIMs), pre-paid cards, phones and repairing PCs, accessories, ring tones, billing and collection for Postpaid charging, Operation and Maintenance of Operator’s equipment etc. Moreover there will be a healthy impact of ICTs on all businesses, governance, education, health and even entertainment. Future projects will result in creating even more jobs across the country. Public-private partnership through an independent company is the touch stone of USF and it does not stop here, it is marching ahead using even more innovative schemes and ideas with the help of telecom operators.