Mar 03 - 09, 2008

The multi billion dollar telecom industry has made an indelible impression on the life style of a common citizen of Pakistan. A multitude of variously tuned ring tones heard all around have added a certain zest to our lives. The industry is still in the expansionary mode. New entrants are taking the arena with bagfuls of investment dollars with few others bracing to take the plunge. The big market players look ever busy hammering out fierce competitive strategies and in the process churning out huge profits for their organizations. The people, taking time-out from the hard realities of life, are rolling in the joy of easy and on-hand communication with those who matter, quite oblivious of the downside of the phenomenon.

The communication explosion, has certainly thrown into the air loads of obnoxious debris. The medical and social implications of the rapid change are now rearing their ugly heads for us to take a horrified look. The radio magnetic emissions from thousands of mobile-phone towers atop commercial and residential buildings are perpetual threat to the human lives. The damaging influence of these emissions needs to be accurately measured and publicized to create awareness. This will result in the formation of a consensus on the issue of safety measures to be taken by the respective telecom corporate bodies.

The cell phone snatching is a social hazard that has figured on the horizon of public life with the meteoric rise of telecom industry. A good number of citizens are known to have lost their lives while resisting the snatching attempt; the monetary loss often suffered by the not-so-unfortunate is now the every-day story. Measures so far taken to control this situation have not been so successful, if not failed. Simple administrative measures are not going to succeed. A technical solution with the active involvement of telecom industry itself will have to be sought to reduce the lucrative snatching business to a losing proposition for the perpetrators.

The multiple varieties of cell phones with low-to-high selling price coupled with multifarious incentive-based packages have dramatically affected the life of teenagers with some serious social implications including, but not limiting to, the life risk and the waste of educational time. Late night prolonged chatting and massaging also take its toll on the health of the teenagers. The overall handling cost is naturally passed on to the parents who, in case of a fairly good number of children, find their monetary resources heavily strained. Any solution to this problem ought to be a million dollar solution which neither the country's administrative setup nor the telecom corporate sector can produce.

The parents can, at the most, cut the size of the problem to some manageable limit and that too with delicate handling of the situation. The economic implications of the boom have not been given serious thought. The much talked about rise in the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) brought in by the foreign telecom market players has failed to generate any worthwhile capital formation. Besides investment in the telecom infrastructure, much of the investment goes into marketing and promotional efforts. No doubt the advertising industry has also benefited from the telecom boom, yet the fact remains that the investment is essentially of a non-industrial nature. A sizeable portion of this investment finds its exit to the overseas cell phone manufacturing companies. To balance the growth, efforts should be made to coax the cell phone makers to establish their manufacturing facilities in Pakistan by offering a package of fiscal and other incentives. Siemens, CM-Pak and Motorola can be approached in the first instance as they are already having their stakes in Pakistan.

It is quite disheartening to note that none of the major cell phone operators is listed on stock exchanges depriving the public and country's financial sector to invest in the booming telecom economy. SECP is said to have offered certain incentives for listing of cell phone companies. These incentives having failed to attract these companies a fresh package needs to be developed and offered. The proposed listing will not only provide a renewed impetus to the stock exchange business but will also dilute concentration in banking and energy sectors which in turn will result in a more balanced growth of stock market.


The Corporate Social Responsibility factor is almost missing from the whole story of booming success of telecom sector. The environmental and public health hazards briefly discussed here have not figured in the policy design of big telecom operators. In that part of the developed world, proper safeguard measures are essentially spelled out and implemented by the operating companies. The overly de-regularized field for the overseas telecom companies has allowed them to respond indifferently to these issues. The government, without causing any panic and after taking the telecom corporate sector in confidence, should frame environmental safety rules for compliance.

The big market players Mobilink, Ufone, Warid Telecom, Wateen, Telenor Pak, CM Pak etc. are earning huge profits contributing significantly to their respective group earnings. They should not wait for the government of Pakistan to remind them of their social responsibility. Instead, they should take the lead and finance social sector development programs especially on education and health front. It will be unfair not to mention Mobilink who have, in collaboration with an NGO (The Citizens Foundation), have financed various social sector projects. These projects include setting up of two schools at Lahore and Karachi, funding of scholarships for studies at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Institute of Business Administration (IBA) and Ghulam Ishaque Khan Institute (GIKI), donating for setup of a unit at PIMS hospital, funding of a new youth housing block in partnership with Roshni Homes Trust and providing of disaster relief to the 2005 earthquake victims.

The Ministry of IT in collaboration with the mobile phone companies has set a fund under the name USF (United Service Fund) to be utilized for expanding telecom facilities to the remote and un-served areas of the country. The cell phone companies have contributed to the extent of 1.5 percent of their revenue and USF have awarded a contract to Mobilink to carry out the desired expansion. Although by nature a business fund, yet USF is a welcome sign auguring well for the proposed public-private participation projects. Such more funds need to be set up with the active participation of telecom sector, to be utilized purely for social uplift programs.

The President and CEO, Mobilink GSM, Pakistan, Mr. Zouhair Khaliq has beautifully summed up his understanding of the issue as follows:

"We have tried to understand what is expected of us as a responsible corporation and then, where possible, to act on these insights in the larger interests of the community we live in."