Questions over plans for new undersea cable -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

Questions over plans for new undersea cable

ISLAMABAD: Private telecom and internet companies have expressed reservations over the National Telecommunication Corporation’s move to requisition a feasibility report for laying a submarine cable between Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

The NTC published an advertisement in national media in May for “Hiring of consultancy services for techno-commercial study and financial advisory services for lying of submarine fibre-optic cable between Pakistan (Karachi) and the United Arab Emirates (Fujairah)”.

Institutions with specialised services were asked to submit documents for preparation and submission of a comprehensive proposal.

According to a senior official, Pakistan is already connected with three international fibre-optic cables for communication of voice, video and other data with six continents managed by the Pakistan Telecommunication Company.

Talking to Dawn, the official said the existing connections were sufficient for the country’s need.

The 39,000km Southeast Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-3 (SEA-ME-WE 3), the world’s longest optic submarine telecommunication cable, links those regions to Pakistan. The SEA-ME-WE 4 is also used for the same purpose.

The India-Middle East-Western Europe (I-ME-WE) is a 13,000km undersea cable system between India and France.

A private company, Transworld, manages TransWorld 1 (TW1) between Pakistan, Middle East and onwards through international undersea cable routes.

“I don’t see any need for a costly venture at a time when government is facing acute financial problems. Besides, we are already connected with three international cables,” the official said. This is not the only problem with the advertisement; say others, who claim that the NTC cannot lay cables.

“The NTC can’t lay the undersea fibre-optic cable since it would be a violation of the Telecom Act and against the spirit of privatization of the PTCL,” Wahajus Siraj, convener of the Internet Services Providers’ Association of Pakistan, said.

“The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority has to play its role as a regulator and block this feasibility because for allowing it the PTA either has to amend the Telecom Act or issue a new licence to the NTC for commercial utilization of the cable,” he said.

Clause 3 of the Telecom Act of 1996 says: “The NTC shall not sell its capacity on the telecommunication system to any person other than such government agencies or the company.”

Mr. Siraj said the act barred the NTC from offering its services to the public since the PTCL and other telecom companies had purchased licences from the PTA, not the NTC.

He said the cost of laying the cable could be $30 million to $50 million and about one per cent of the cost was normally paid to consultants for a feasibility study. An official said the NTC was already facing a case in the Supreme Court against its commercial venture for bringing international telecommunication traffic to its telephone exchange headquarters.

“The matter is in litigation since the NTC has no mandate for commercial business. Going for a new commercial venture is quite intriguing,” he said.

NTC Chairman Wasi Mohammad Khan said: “It is just a feasibility study and we have it in our mandate to launch a cable. We need it and I will again say its just consultancy.” The chairman ended the conversation without clarifying as to how much money would be spent on hiring consultants for the feasibility report, the total cost of the project and whether it would be a commercial venture or meant for any other specific needs of government institutions.

The acting secretary for information technology, Farooq Awan, who had given approval to the NTC management for seeking the feasibility study, was not available for comments.