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National

June 20, 2017

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Mobile operators ask for equal treatment, provision of services in AJK

Mobile operators ask for equal treatment, provision of services in AJK

ISLAMABAD: All Cellular Mobile Operators (CMOs) have written a joint letter to the government for raising three major objections over working of Special Communication Organisation (SCO) in areas of AJK and Gilgit Baltistan, asking the policy makers for providing them level playing field against a state owned entity.

The CMOs asked the policy makers for launch of Long Term Evolution (LTE) services in AJK & Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) as the regulator withheld its announcement apparently under the influence of the SCO, allowing private sector to deploy their own optical fiber cable in the areas and go ahead with telecom amendment proposed by SCO in consultation with other stakeholders.

The joint letter written by all mobile operators, a copy of which is available with The News, states this is in continuation of telecom industry’s earlier joint letters addressed to the Ministry of IT referred above, requesting for equal treatment and transparency in issuance of authorisations rollout and provisions of services in AJK & GB area in the interest of justice and fair play at all times.

The Cellular Mobile Operators (“CMOs”) based upon principal agreement in line with the provisions of their technology neutral licenses issued by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (“PTA”) have re-farmed their existing spectrum in AJK & GB region.

Successful testing for LTE services has been carried out on this re-farmed spectrum under the existing technology agnostic regime and results have been shared with PTA as well. However PTA has by far withheld the approvals for commercial launch of LTE services in the said area. We have the apprehension that the approval is withheld under the influence of incumbent operator SCO who may not be ready for commercial launch of LTE services. We request your intervention in this critical matter adversely impacting the commercial business interests of the CMOs.

Second, the SCO has recently been awarded the exclusive authorisation and $45 million funding for the 850 km long cross border optical fiber cable connecting China Pakistan Khunjarab border and Rawalpindi without any competitive bidding. We understand that the purpose for the existence of SCO was to carry out strategic projects in extreme conditions beyond the capacity of private operators.

However exclusive public investments and intervention in lucrative cross border communication services where private operators are willing to commit their own investments is against the principal of equal market opportunities and fair competition.

While public investments in lucrative communication segments is a serious problem, the fact that the hurdles are created by the incumbent operator SCO in AJK and GB territory in network roll out and deployment by the private operators is even more alarming. At multiple instances, the deployment of OFC cable by the licensed operators has been blocked by SCO on one pretext or the other. At the same time SCO is abusing its market dominance and monopolistic position in infrastructure market by charging extremely high prices for the deployed optical fiber network in AJK & GB.

In the post 3G/4G spectrum auction, operators have entered into long term lease agreements with optical fiber network providers on account of significant increase in bandwidth requirements. However we regret to inform that SCO is denying provision on long term lease basis and only offers managed capacity on short term lease basis.

The government of Pakistan intends to auction Next Generation Mobile Services (NGMS) spectrum and we the licensed operators also have very ambitious plans to offer state of art NGMS services in AJK & GB. However you would agree with the fact that with extremely high infrastructure costs and hurdles in our network deployment by the incumbent operator SCO, it would not be possible for us to convince our stakeholders to commit significant investment in AJK & GB market.

Thirdly, while we still keep on watching different news items appearing in the print media regarding proposed amendments in the Telecom Act being discussed at various Parliamentary Committees/Forums; we would again request that the proposal of SCO - a government organisation, for any amendments in the Telecom Act without any consultation with the main stakeholders, may kindly be reviewed in view of telecom sectors’ serious reservations. This would not only reinforce foreign investors’ confidence in their future investment in telecommunication sector in Pakistan, but would go a long way in accelerating such investment in bringing better and more efficient telecommunication technologies in the country.

The Telecom Operators being the largest contributors of FDI in Pakistan economy; therefore, respectfully request the government that in the interest of justice and fair play, the principles of level playing field in commercial ventures may kindly be upheld at all times. It is further requested that the government organisations may not be pitched against commercial organisations through extension of undue favours to the former. Undue favours and grant of permission to any government organisation at discriminatory terms and conditions while processing amendment in license (scope & jurisdiction etc.), allocation of scarce resources (spectrum) and Right of Way, will be contrary to the principles of level playing field, thereby, questioning the legality of the act. We understand that these practices are against the international best practices and such news discourages the existing foreign investors who have invested in the telecom sector considering the international commitments of the government w.r.t. ensuring protection of licensees’ rights and making decisions and determinations in open, equitable, non-discriminatory, consistent and transparent manner.

“We thus yet again solicit Ministry of IT’s support for the resolution of these critical issues on priority basis before the NGMS spectrum auction to ensure delivery of long awaited high quality fixed and mobile broadband services in AJK & GB,” the joint letter concluded.

 

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