Universal Service Fund Pakistan
Universal Service Fund (USF) was established by the Government of Pakistan (Ministry of Information Technology) to spread the benefits of the telecom revolution to all corners of Pakistan. USF promotes the development of telecommunication services in un-served and under-served areas throughout the length and breadth of the country.
- To bring the focus of telecom operators towards rural population and increase the level of telecom penetration significantly in the rural areas through effective and fair utilization of the fund.
- To improve the Broadband penetration in the country.
- To bring significant advances towards enhancement of e-services, both in rural as well as urban areas of the country.
The establishment of USF was envisaged in Pakistan Telecom Act 1996/2000 according to which all licensed telecom operators contribute to this Fund. In order to utilize this fund for achievement of targets, Government of Pakistan decided to follow a “Public Private Partnership” Model. Therefore, USF Co. has an independent Board of Directors consisting of equal number of members from the Government and private sector. As per the USF rules 2006 notified on November 1, 2006, the Federal Government has the possession, management and control of the Fund, its income, undertakings, properties and assets. Federal Government makes quarterly releases to USF Company as per the approved budget.
In order to achieve its objectives, USF finances spread of telecom services to previously un-served or under-served areas and makes it possible for already licensed operators to provide telecom services to those areas, on normal commercial (read: competitive) terms. Telecom services include basic telephony, broadband internet, other infrastructure for these services and (for those who cannot afford the necessary instruments/devices) Tele-centers. Challenge before the Company is to achieve the targets through an efficient transparent, competitive process. Therefore all disbursements of Funds are done through open competitive bidding, encouraging full competition among telecom licensees.
In a very short period of time, USF under the guidance of the Board, started working independently i.e. hired competent professionals and developed the company policies subsequently approved by the board which laid the solid foundation to make a start.
Since May 2007, USF has started Rural Telecom services projects in 7 different areas (called “Lots”), for which contracts have been signed with major telecom service providers in the country – Telenor, Mobilink, Warid and PTCL. The main aim of this programme is to bring the focus of telecom operators from urban towards rural population. Access to services shall be offered by operators, both through shared access points as appropriate, and to all customers requesting service in the areas covered through the support of the USF, at published national tariffs.
The second program being followed is Broadband for Unserved Urban Areas which has been launched to improve broadband penetration in the unserved urban areas. This programme will give boost to provision of other e-services like e-health, e-government, e-commerce etc.
USF has also started two special projects i.e. Optic Fiber Project and ICTs for persons with disabilities. The Optic Fiber project involves extension of optic fiber cables to all Tehsils which will help the telecom service providers in giving all kinds of telecom services to those areas which are difficult to reach today. It is like building information motor-ways to all Tehsils.
The project ‘ICTs for persons with disabilities’ involves providing ICT related equipment to Al-Shifa Trust Eye Hospital and Pakistan Foundation Fighting Blindness. The basic objective of this project is to help people with disabilities overcome their disability and assist them to compete on even basis with their non-disabled peers by using Telecom and E-services.
In the very near future USFCo will also be launching independent Telecenters projects aimed at introducing and promoting e-services in the rural areas of the country where availability of PCs and computer literacy are the main issues.
USF is also trying its bit to contribute in other fields in the country. One example relates to the energy crisis in the country where USF is encouraging its contractors to go for Alternative Energy Solutions like Solar. When a few thousand radio base stations get equipped with solar, it will not only help telecom services, it would certainly help the solar industry of the country too.