STAFF REPORT ISB: Universal Service Fund (USF), created with the aim to help deploy telecom infrastructure in unserved areas, has failed to deliver.
By some estimates, in the last 7-8 years, USF has collected over Rs100 billion from operators. Yet it has contracted projects for less than 30 percent of that amount. Actual disbursements are said to be even low.
It is to be mentioned here the mobile operative are bound to pay 1.5 per cent of their annual revenues to the USF for these project.
Pakistan needs to change the policy that could put the USF on its original track.
The new policy must have broadband connectivity – especially fixed broadband – at its front and centre. That would fix twin problems of low optic fiber and broadband connectivity in rural areas.
Besides, fixed infrastructure will lay a solid foundation for subsequent entry of 3G services to areas truly rural in characteristics. Universal Telecentres can also utilize that infrastructure and become a hub citizen services and local entrepreneurship.
To start, the government must loosen its hold on USF finances, appoint right people and let them work, and depoliticize the project identification and implementation phases.
Its time to end the funded dysfunction that is prevailing at USF.