FREE TELEPHONE CONNECTIONS

The success story of the telecommunication sector should be a trendsetter for other utility sectors

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Sep 27 - Oct 03, 2004

There were the days when having a telephone connection was a dream of the common man in our country. People have to wait for years for the demand note. The subscribers in most of the cases had to bribe or seek Sifarish to hear the first ring of the phone even after paying the amount of the demand note. Having a phone was a business of the privileged class only.

However, the situation is altogether different today by virtue of the policy of privatization, which has brought a cutthroat competition in the telecommunication sector, and the companies engaged in the business are offering innovative and attractive offers to attract the customers. Even the Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation was forced to offer free telephone connections to remain in the business. This trend of offering free telephone connection was in fact a marketing technique, which ultimately helps the telephone department to have more revenue due to a quantum jump in the number of subscribers. Since the number of telephone users is growing rapidly, there is great possibility that the call charges on local and long distance calls would also come down sharply in near future. Obviously a good development both from the consumer as well as telephone companies point of view.

Actually, the success story of the telecommunication sector should be a trendsetter for other utility sectors, which are still in the control of the public sector in Pakistan.

Electricity was yet another area which is related to every human member of the society, since this highly significant area was still under the government control, the corrupt were still taking booty out of the situation by creating a host of problems in the areas like distribution, meter reading, billing and maintenance etc.

It is the high time that the successful experiment of privatization in the telecommunication sector should also be applied in the power sector by handing over the power distribution system to the private sector companies in the large cities of the country.

Currently, there is a monopoly of one public sector utility companies in major cities of the country. If more than one companies are allowed to operate distribution and marketing of the electricity in the large cities like Karachi where distribution and marketing of the electricity distributed among four to five companies, there are strong possibilities that not only the unaffordable price of the electricity will come down but the quality of the power supply would also improved to a great extent, as it has already happened in the case of telecommunication sector.

Enjoying the taste of the privatization, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), following government's liberal and business-friendly investment policy is laying optimum emphasis on implementation to its deregulation policy with pressure free and autonomous role. It has earned a record 14 billion rupees for the exchequer through the spectrum auction recently. In return, the PTA has also offered attractive package of incentives and vast lucrative opportunities to investors. This accomplishment is indeed a quantum leap for the PTA. PTA had also received an enormous chunk of about $582 million by way of issuing two cellular phone licenses to companies of international repute in a transparent bidding process.

The bidding for 14 telecom regions for the grant of wireless local loop licenses with the conclusion of auction of spectrum in southern telecom region and Karachi telecom region was completed in the third week of last month. The bidding for the allocation of spectrum captured huge investment and about 108 wireless local loops are expected to be issued for operation. The wireless local loop services are going to bring another revolution in the telecom sector of the country, which ensures attracting huge investment in the country.

The wireless local loop services is the latest and best suited technology to the prevalent environment in Pakistan. This service is expected to greatly benefit the low-income groups and inhabitants of the rural and remote areas where people have not access to the telephone network so far. There is a great hope that in the wake of huge investment, the investors turn entrepreneur will set up their own establishments resulting in employment opportunities of the people. There is going to be more competition, high quality of services standards, cheaper charges and scanty affordable bills. With the advent of new operators, call rates for telephone will substantially decrease leading to enduring and sustainable relief to the consumers, which is the basic function of PTA as the guardian of consumer's interest. By implementing the deregulation policy in letter and spirit, PTA is accomplishing the economic objectives of the country.

I would like to emphasis again that the highly appreciable example set by the telecommunication sector should be followed by other utility organizations especially by WAPDA and KESC, as the high cost of electricity, poor quality of power supply, and high incidence of power theft all are an unbearable burdens on the national economy, on the budget of the common man and above all a major irritant in the way of industrial investment in the country despite enormous business potential and opportunities.