WB offers $125m for telecom growth
ISLAMABAD, Oct 3: The ministry of information technology will shortly launch a multi-billion-rupees project with the help of the World Bank (WB) to accelerate growth of telecommunication in remote areas of the country. Minister for Information Technology Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari said that details for the Rural Telecommunications Access Project were being worked out and the World Bank has agreed to provide $125 million financial aid.
He made the announcement in a statement here on Tuesday following a meeting with a four-member WB delegation headed by senior representative Ritin Singh, who met him here to discuss modalities of the project and identify areas to receive support within the telecom sector. Awais Leghari said the amount received from the WB would be deposited in the universal service fund (USF) as contribution by the government to bring the rural population into the mainstream of the country’s economic development. “The benefits of such an intervention would be a higher GDP growth, improved governance and poverty alleviation through enhanced economic activities and job creation,” he said.
Mr Leghari said the government wanted to invest heavily in rural telecommunication to bridge the access gap through output- based aid schemes as introduced earlier by many countries in South Asia, Latin America and Africa. “International experience shows that despite deregulation and competitive private sector participation, universal access to telecom services is unlikely to be achieved without intervention, at least in the initial phase of development,” he said. He said: “The fund would also be used to create an atmosphere free of exclusivity rights or technology restrictions to ensure maximum advantages to the target population.” The minister said rural tele-density in Pakistan stood at a dismal one per cent of the population and he was keen to take it to at least five per cent by 2010. It’s estimated cost is around $100 million.
Earlier, Awais Leghari told the WB delegation Pakistan had made significant progress in telecommunication development in recent years with the overall tele-density touching 18 per cent at the back of around 40 million mobile phone subscribers. “The rural-urban divide is constantly widening as the mobile phone revolution is largely forced in the urban areas while the WLL system is also far from meeting the requirement of the rural areas which make up for 70 per cent of the country’s population,” he said. Minister Leghari said the government had identified four key areas, including basic rural telephony, broadband, e-services and content development, to focus on during the roll-out of the universal service fund.–APP