The Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunications was held on Thursday. Chaired by Senator Rubina Khalid, the meeting was attended by Senator A. Rehman Malik, Senator Ghous Muhammad Khan Niazi, Senator Tahir Bizenjo Senator Engr Rukhsana Zuberi, Senator Sana Jamali, Senator Fida Muhammad, Senator Mian Muhammad Ateeq Shaikh and senior officers from the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication and Pakistan Telecom Limited.
The issues taken up by the Committee included the bi-annual review of the budgetary allocation and its utilization; and lack of services of Pakistan Telecom Limited (Ufone) in various towns and areas of district Malakand.
While deliberating over budget allocation and utilization by the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication, the Committee was informed that the development budget was slashed by 50 percent. Original allocation was PKR 3046.352 m, budget cut (@53 percent), PKR 1597.677 m; revised allocation was PKR 1448.648 m.
The Committee showed grave displeasure over the massive decrease and stressed the need for these funds to be restored. Senator A. Rehman Malik was of the view that around the world, especially in India great emphasis was given to IT projects and software development. This is the only thing that will take Pakistan forward, he asserted.
Senator Sana Jamali was of the view that if Pakistan wishes to compete with India it was imperative that attention be paid to this area.
Discussing details of the Universal Service Fund (USF), Senator A. Rehman Malik said that the mandate must be revised so that issues of least developed areas may be resolved. Chairman Committee, Senator Rubina Khalid, recommended that if there are certain bylaws pertaining to USF that are proving hurdles to the Ministry, it may consult with the Committee on Delegated Legislations so that these rules may be revisited so as to accommodate and benefit least developed areas.
Regarding lack of services of Pakistan Telecom Limited (Ufone) in various areas of district Malakand, Senator Fida Muhammad informed the Committee that there were three service providers in the area; Ufone, Telenor and Zong with 17 percent, 70 percent and 90 percent coverage respectively. He said that Ufone provided least service in the area and hence this issue must be resolved.
The Ministry explained to the Committee that as per license obligations the service providers have fulfilled the license condition. It was also revealed that service providers tend to provide services in commercially viable areas.
Senator A. Rehman Malik was of the view that providing service only to areas that are commercially viable is a human rights violation. He said that even USF was formed to help service providers expand services to less developed areas. He said that legislation must be formulated to ensure provision of facility to all unserved areas. Chairman Committee, Senator Rubin Khalid directed the Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication to provide the Committee with a list of unserved/underserved areas.
The Committee was assured that the Ministry will look into the matter and review ways in which services could be expanded to various areas of district Malakand.