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Delay in security clearance hampers telecom services in Fata

Delay in security clearance hampers telecom services in Fata

ISLAMABAD: Plans to link hundreds of villages in the tribal areas and Balochistan with the rest of the country and the world through digital communications are hampered by a lack of security clearance from agencies, depriving nearly a million people of the telecom services.

Senate Subcommittee on Information Technology Chairman Senator Taj Mohammad Afridi on Tuesday criticised the secretariat of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) for failing to assist the Ministry of Information Technology to connect the un-served and under-served tribal areas.

“The concerned agencies have not given clearance to the federal departments to establish telecom networks in Fata for the last two years,” said Senator Afridi.

The subcommittee met to discuss problems being faced by the Universal Service Fund (USF), an attached department of the ministry, in getting no-objection certificates (NOC) to work in Bajaur, Mohmand and Khyber agencies.

The USF has been mandated to connect un-served and under-served areas with telecom facilities, including broadband services.

According to USF Chief Financial Officer Haris Chaudhry, there are nearly a million people in over 180 Mauzas in the Fata belt still without telecom and broadband services.

“A fresh survey is necessary to assess the current working status of the telecommunication infrastructure as well as to identify un-served areas to design telephony projects,” said Mr Chaudhry.

The survey is also necessary to award contracts to the cellular mobile operators through bidding. In a previous meeting of the subcommittee in December 2016, the secretary law and order Fata had assured the senators that NoCs would be issued after completing formalities.

The meeting learnt that Levy and Khasadar section of the law and order department, Fata Secretariat, had asked the USF for details of the survey activity.

However, according to an official from the Fata law and order secretariat, the delay was at the end of the army which has to issue clearances for the survey and proposed projects.

The chairman said the subcommittee had been formed to ensure that the hurdles were removed and telecom projects launched in Fata.

“We understand that the necessary delay is by Fata secretariat to allow operators to establish their services in the far-off locations. This subcommittee directs the Fata secretariat to extend cooperation to the ministry and its related departments to link the areas with digital communications,” said Mr Afridi.

The meeting learnt that the USF was also facing delays in implementing telecom projects in some other parts of the country such as Chitral, Sibi, Kalat, Zhob and Mastung.

The meeting was informed that a base transceiver station (BTS tower) at Kalat was destroyed with a bomb in November 2015 and the site was still down. Operators were facing land acquisition problems since last year in Zhob.

For security reasons, civil works at some half a dozen sites in Kalat were put on hold. Similarly, a telecom tower was destroyed by miscreants with a bomb in Sibi in July 2016 that affected nearly a dozen connected sights.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2017

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