KARACHI: The Telecommunications Policy 2015, which was approved by the government last week, addresses a large number of issues facing cellular mobile operators (CMOs) who are seeing the new policy as a positive development that will strengthen the telecom sector.
“By and large the new policy is very positive for the industry and we look forward to a level-playing field that will further boost the sector’s growth,” said Omar Manzur, Director Corporate Communication at Mobilink, the largest CMO by subscriber base.
Though the long-awaited policy document addressed most of the issues facing the telecom sector, it didn’t accommodate CMOs’ request to award them ‘industry’ status, which could help reduce their tax obligations, such as customs duty, sales tax and income tax.
To this, Manzur said negotiations with the government are a continuous process but the new policy is positive overall.
The telecom sector was successfully deregulated in 2003. Since then, it has witnessed unprecedented growth in terms of teledensity, especially through mobile penetration. The country’s total teledensity stands at 66% as of October 2015, up from 4.3% at the end of fiscal year 2003.
The 2003 policy had to be revised after five years but successive governments didn’t pay much attention to it, resulting in a 12-year hiatus. In the meantime, the information and communications technology (ICT) entered an exciting and transformational era and became one of the dominant contributors to economic growth - thus needing an updated policy to address the challenges of today.
“The Telecom Policy 2015 is aimed to facilitate the attainment of an all-embracing national agenda and to transform Pakistan into an economically vibrant, knowledge-based, middle-income country by 2025,” says the new policy document.
“With socio-economic development through ICT at its core, this is a graduating step towards strengthening Telecommunications sector in Pakistan,” Telenor Pakistan’s Chief Corporate Affairs and Strategy Officer Aslam Hayat said in a statement.
Explaining, Hayat says the new policy lays out an adequate foundation for telecom infrastructure, spectrum, Universal Services Fund (USF), ICT, research and development funds and satellite telecommunications, which will contribute towards forming an effective framework for implementation of telecom projects and rationalising taxes.
Some of the core issues to be addressed by the new policy include provision of public Wi-Fi hot spots, fast tracking right of way process for telecom infrastructure, eliminating grey telephony, establishing telecentres with USF kitty to increase coverage in under-served areas and a competition framework aimed to encourage efficient and high quality market offering and choice of services to consumers.
While CMOs termed it a positive policy overall, the document doesn’t seem to cover everything concerning the industry.
“We are now eagerly looking forward to the IT Policy, which will complement this Telecom Policy,” said Hayat.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 15th, 2015.
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