PROMOTING TELECOM SERVICES IN BALOCHISTAN
May 18 - 24, 2009
Government needs to facilitate growth of various telecom services in Balochistan, as these services can be utilized to enhance usage of information in different spheres of life and to uplift the socio-economic conditions of the people in the least-developed province. Funds should be allocated by the government to promote various telecom services including broadband in the province for the next fiscal year's budget.
Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) should take effective measures to promote and expand broadband services across the province. according to the PTA sources, the authority has recently achieved mobile number portability (over 400,000 ported subscribers), new SIM verification system (11.2 million un-registered numbers blocked), AJ&K licensing, rural telephony (349 Rabta Ghar installed), gray traffic monitoring. Moreover, provisioning of free dial-up PTCL earns Rs 1, 909.018 million net profit. Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited has earned Rs 1,909.018 million as profit after tax in the quarter ended March 31, 2009 as compared to Rs 2,977.335 million earned in the corresponding period in 2008.
Balochistan still lacks the sound telecommunication infrastructure and remains a potential telecom market after the deregulation of telecom industry. The province is yet to fully enjoy the fruits of deregulation, which has brought scores of new private entrants to provide service in Pakistan. The deregulation of telecom industry is fast gaining momentum with dozens of more communication companies and millions of customers entering both the fixed-line and mobile telephone markets. The mobile network covers a population of 2.7 million which is around 35 per cent of total population of Balochistan. The fixed line subscribers are substituting fixed line with mobile services in the province. In 2006, the fixed line subscribers in the province have dropped by 5 per cent.
Presently, the broadband services are available in the provincial capital Quetta, but there are complaints about the quality of services from the users. The growth of broadband depends on development of local contents and applications for users. If contents are prepared locally they can help in bringing awareness and education among the masses. The rates for broadband services should also be reduced for local users. Some operators have launched Wimax Broadband services, others like Telecard and Wi-tribe should also launch these services in Balochistan.
There are at least seven Internet Service Providers (ISPs), which are providing Internet/Broadband services in the province. There are more than 150 locations, which have internet access in the province. Launched in 2005, the DSL services are also being provided by many ISPs in the province.
Geographically, Balochistan has a difficult terrain, scattered population and vast areas. Hence, expansion of Wireless Local Loop (WLL) network services is deemed cost effective in the province. WLL services have expanded in the province at a higher rate as compared to other services. Presently, out of all four WLL operators in the country, two have presence in Balochistan. WLL subscribers in the province have increased from a total of 435 in 2004 to more than 46,617 by last year. Total WLL density in the province is 0.60 per cent which was almost negligible in 2004.
Telecard Limited launched its Go CDMA WLL telephone service in Balochistan in 2005. In the first phase, GO CDMA telephone service was provided in Quetta, Hub, Sibbi, Usta Mohammad, Dera Jamali and many other small towns. However, in the second phase, it has been planned that the WLL network would be extended to Chaman, Zhob, Turbat and Gwadar.
PTCL covers 39 cities in Balochistan with a population of more than 1.5 million. The PTCL has laid Optical Fibre from Quetta to Chaman. Similarly, it has also completed the project of installation of Optical Fibre from Loralai to Dera Ghazi Khan. It is also committed to provision of 18,552 lines on copper and WLL services in far-flung areas of the province, placing of 2.5G system in Quetta, Optical Fibre Access Network at Quetta and Hub with 13,000 and 1000 lines respectively.
Balochistan has immense potential for the development of telecom sector and its geo-strategic location in the region is also an attraction for the foreign telecom firms. Less affordability and non-availability of electricity are the main impediments for development of the sector in the province. Other obstacles are its geography and demography indicating a difficult terrain and scattered population. The least developed province is yet to enjoy and benefit from the advancement in computing and telecommunications.
The former government had taken certain initiatives to enhance the telecom access as well as tele-density in the province. For instance, it had reduced the annual regulatory fee of WLL licensees operating in the province from 0.5 per cent to 0.1 per cent for three years initially and 0.5 per cent to 0.25 per cent in subsequent two years. Annual Spectrum Fee for WLL was also reduced to 10 per cent of the actual fee applicable under the license.
Present government should announce a special telecom policy for the rapid growth of this industry in the province in the next fiscal year. It should also take steps to improve the security environment in tribal areas of the province, so that private firms could expand their operations in these areas. The level of development in telecommunication is generally measured through tele-density; hence the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) should take steps to enhance tele-density in the province. Steps should be taken to establish community-based tele-centers across Balochistan, where telecom facilities will be shared instead of having dedicated facilities.
A telecom forum should be arranged as a calendar activity by the PTA to provide a platform for promoting interaction among telecom consumers, private sector and telecom regulator for telecom development and for devising a strategic approach for development of telecom services in the province. Today, law and order has become a major problem in the province. It provides a risky environment to implement any business plan or economic activity. The incidents of bomb blasts, attacks on public installations and target killings have become a routine. The prevailing security situation in the province is enough to discourage the foreign firms to start their operations.
The government should work for creating a peaceful and business-friendly environment in the province. The investments in telecom sector can only be attracted if the province presents a stable political scene. The government should make efforts for bringing a political reconciliation in the province and improving the law and order situation, which is essential for luring the foreign investors.