The 64 years of independence and large parts of our populations feeling deprived of basic telecom services, makes true independence look like a dream! Especially when modern telecom is not only a right of the citizens, it is a pre-requisite for development in today’s world.
Universal Service Fund is desperately trying to bridge this by running programmes worth more than Rs. 17 Billion at present and advertising programs worth another few billions – providing basic telecom services to thousands of villages, optic fiber connectivity to the Tehsils, broadband to hundreds of small towns and cities and bringing broadband to the villages through tele-centres. The objective of all these programmes is to provide modern services like tele-education, tele-medicine, e-government, e-commerce etc. at the doorsteps of the people, as other than ICT, there is no other way to serve the large and expanding populace.
USF programme of tele-centres merits special mention – not because it’s pilot project has just been advertised, but because it is attempting to bring the most modern e-Services through broadband, down to the village level. At USF we know it is a huge challenge. On one side the world recognizes tele-centres to be the only way to bring e-Services to the doorsteps of the rural populations, whereas on the other side self-sustainable tele-centres are difficult to find.
USF understands that the challenge is bigger for the service providers. So USF continues efforts to make it ‘somewhat easier’ for them. For instance in the basic rural telecom program, as one goes into more remote and difficult areas, USF is now also offering a large part of Opex in the first 3 years, has made renewable power compulsory, has raised the lower limit of population for obligatory villages (thus reducing the number of villages to be covered), no reserve prices in the auctions, etc. Similarly in the tele-centres programme, broadband providers will no more be burdened with running of the centers – that will be done by rural development organisations.
So now it is the service providers who have to venture out a little bit more! At USF, we believe that unless we all work to bring a revolution in the lives of the majority of the people, who happen to live in rural areas in case of Pakistan, true independence will remain a dream.