“Pakistan’s mobile market has significant potential, but current levels of mobile internet adoption, smartphone take-up and usage of digital services lag behind those of other countries in the region. Certain policy decisions may have hindered Pakistan’s digital development and hampered the growth of the online economy,” stated GSMA, which represents the interests of mobile operators worldwide, uniting more than 750 operators with almost 400 companies in the broader mobile ecosystem in its latest report “The Mobile Economy Asia Pacific 2021.”
The report noted that encouragingly, authorities appear committed to achieving growth and increasing citizens’ access to high-quality connectivity. This is reflected by decisions in 2021 to initiate mobile-sector tax reforms and introduce right-of-way policies for infrastructure deployments.
The GSMA will also collaborate with the country’s universal service fund (USF) body on reducing the digital divide and usage gap. Pakistan has a well-designed USF, which has played a significant role in expanding network coverage in remote areas of Pakistan, characterized by mountainous terrains and sparsely populated communities.
During the last decade, the USF has made contractual obligations of around Rs. 85 billion ($526 million) to support the expansion of telecoms infrastructure and services to underserved areas of the country. In the fiscal year 2020-21, the USF made contractual commitments of over Rs. 23 billion ($142 million) to service providers to help extend coverage to an additional 10 million citizens following the COVID-19 outbreak.
These efforts have the potential to increase Pakistan’s economic well-being and competitiveness, contribute to the realization of SDG-9, and empower communities through broadband penetration among the masses.
Efficient and affordable ICT infrastructure and services allow citizens to participate in the digital economy, with significant impact in the areas of financial inclusion, poverty reduction, and improved health.
Talking to this correspondent, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) USF, Haris Chaudhry, said that amidst the outbreak, while the country still struggles to re-open and battle the crises, organizations including USF, continue to stay at the forefront of accelerating digital transformation, keeping societies informed and connected, enabling communities by delivering connectivity and access to life-enhancing services even in the farthest areas, which fell silent and disconnected during the pandemic.
“As the country continues to deal with recovery from the pandemic, connectivity is still crucial to rebuilding economies and making them more resilient to future shocks. Acknowledging the critical facts, USF has been instrumental in the socio–economic upliftment of the country, ever since the beginning undoing the damage the pandemic has caused to the entire economy”, the CEO added.
Driven by its commitment to spreading the benefits of high-speed mobile internet broadband connectivity in un-served and under-served areas of Pakistan, and in line with the vision of Digital Pakistan, USF has been actively involved with the community, industry, and its stakeholders in bridging the digital divide in Pakistan by keeping the communities and people connected throughout the pandemic.
USF continues to play a key role in the socio-economic uplifting of the country while actively working with its stakeholders and on the ground, monitoring the progress, helping the communities stay connected, and enabling them to keep up with their day-to-day lives.
Realizing the value of social impact, USF is at the forefront of fulfilling sustainable development goals, building resilient infrastructure, building a more digitally inclusive and open economy, enabling communities to communicate and participate in the digital economy, he added.
USF is empowering the country’s population by enabling them to participate in the exchange of data and sharing of information through Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs). Farmers are reaping the benefits from access to information about the market, health, and weather services in remote areas. The improved cutting-edge strategies and information about the best pesticides to use on the farms for better harvests are increasing the farmer’s productivity and income.
ICT infrastructure benefitted these low-income rural communities by overcoming geographic isolation, promoting access to resources and opportunities, and encouraging social interactions and community attachment, which would lower the possibilities of out‐migration and stimulate economic development.
Pakistan is emerging as a role model for IT and Telecom markets in other countries. This sector has achieved many unprecedented successes, which have as a result benefited ordinary citizens of every province across the country, CEO USF added.