KARACHI: Mobile phone operators have urged the government to subsidise 4G-enabled smartphones from the existing Rs100-billion fund, contributed by the telecom industry, to enable people using advanced internet to improve their livelihood, lifestyle and ecosystem.
Telenor Pakistan Chief Executive Officer Irfan Wahab Khan said the high cost of 4G smartphones was a major hurdle in the way of spreading benefits of fast internet in the country.
“The government can provide subsidised handsets like Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad did to digitalise Malaysia and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has decided to do,” he said while speaking at the 17th ITCN Asia Conference 2017 on Tuesday.
The government had established the Universal Services Fund (USF) years ago in which mobile phone operators contribute 1.5% of their revenues.
“The amount of collected funds has now reached around Rs100 billion since it has remained underutilised for quite some time now,” he said.
“USF should be utilised for spreading and expanding telecom services including broadband for sustainable economic development, especially in remote and rural areas, since these are the targeted areas for which the fund has been established,” he said.
Khan revealed that excluding multiple SIMs, only 20-22% of the population was using mobile internet in the country.
“If subsidised handsets are provided, internet penetration may reach 50% of the population in the next two years. We are aiming to provide internet to 80% of the population in the long run,” he emphasised.
Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited Chief Commercial Officer Adnan Shahid stressed that high internet speed was a necessity in today’s age and not a luxury.
“A ‘digital emergency’ should be declared in Pakistan with the aim of connecting 20% of households to high-speed internet by 2020,” he said.
Jazz Chief Commercial Officer Asif Aziz, responding to a question, claimed that 4G coverage would be provided to 70% of the population by 2020. “At present, 25-30% of the population is provided with the advanced broadband internet coverage,” he said.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) Chairman Syed Ismail Shah was of the view that high tax rates on mobile services were stifling people’s access to internet.
“We have time and again raised this issue with the Federal Board of Revenue without any result,” he complained.
“PTA officials do not try to avoid the bureaucracy. PTA is not all government, but it is a small part of the government,” he remarked.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 20th, 2017.