June 25, 2003
AJK may be opened to cellphone operators --
ISLAMABAD, June 25: The government will consider opening up of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Northern Areas to mobile phone operators. This was stated by Information Technology Minister Awais Ahmad Khan Leghari at a forum on development of telecom services in rural areas, organized by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) at a local hotel on Wednesday. "I do not consider opening up of the AJK to cellular phone companies will pose any security threat," he said. The minister said that the Special Communication Organization (SCO), which is currently responsible for providing telecommunication service in the two sensitive areas, would be made an independent organization. In order to expand and improve the telecommunications facilities in AJK and Northern Areas, the government has allocated Rs650 million for SCO in the PSDP, the minister said. Instead of depending on government grants, the SCO, he added, would be able to generate its own revenue to reinvest in its expansion programmes. The Special Communication Organization director-general, Maj-Gen Mohammad Waheed Akhtar; First Women Bank vice-president Hina Usmani; Izhar Ali Hunzai of the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme; Salman Ansari, adviser to the IT ministry, the CEOs of various mobile phone companies and others also spoke. Their emphasis was to remove activation tax on cell phones to which the minister agreed. They asked the government not to set stringent quality of service provision for new areas to make the investors economically viable - to which the minister did not agree, saying that quality of service would not be compromised at any cost. The minister called for taking drastic steps to expand teledensity in the country as only 1,213 out of 50,588 villages have so far been brought under the telephone net. "A rural teledensity of 0.77 per cent as compared to urban teledensity of 5.76 per cent with country average at 2.6 per cent is not at all acceptable by any comparative standard," he maintained. He said the PTCL had to do a lot of work to correct the basic teledensity figures in the country through deployment of different technologies in rural areas.