USF playing vibrant role in bridging digital divide

STAFF REPORT IBD: Despite the slowdown in subsidy disbursals in 2010 and much of 2011, the Universal Support Fund (USF) is regarded by the IT and telecom sector as a success story as it has achieved some major milestones in the recent past.

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The fact is that the USF experience offers some valuable insights into the process of institutional building and public-private-partnership in a country like Pakistan.

USF, established in 2006 in line with the World Bank recommendations, was modelled on public-private-partnership and its board of directors draws representations from government, IT and telecom sectors and consumer groups.

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According to an official, the USFs core goal is to bridge the digital divide in Pakistan through development of ICT infrastructure in those un-served and under-served areas which were commercially unviable for telecom operators.

USF subsidises projects in areas such as rural telephony, broadband and optical fiber cable networks. For over four and a half years now, USF has contracted projects worth Rs 17.1 billion, in an open and transparent way.

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The Fund takes its funding from licensed telecom players, identifies projects within the sector, invites the same players for bidding, and then subsidises major portion of the project cost. Though the government controls the fund, it cannot impose its decision arbitrarily.

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