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GB, AJK looking forward to broadband internet facility

April 07, 2020

ISLAMABAD: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) lack access to broadband internet, making lives difficult particularly since the outbreak of pandemic of Covid-19 virus.

The region with one of the highest literacy rates lacks access to speedy internet and with that a host of opportunities. In the other parts of Pakistan, the internet provided much-needed relief to people stuck up at homes and even allowed students to benefit when different educational institutions started online classes. Through E-commerce, people were buying daily life requirements without violating lockdown restrictions mainly with help of speedy internet services of 3G and 4G technologies.

Since the lockdown of Indian Occupied Kashmir a few months ago, there is a stark contrast for the world to see on either side of the LoC with access to communication and flow of information on top of the list but it would create a world of difference if the AJK and GB were to be powered with 3G and 4G technologies. But right now, beyond showcasing and comparing the kind of governance on both sides, it is about giving the people of AJK and GB their fair share to benefit from the digital technologies that the rest of us take for granted.

PPP’s ex-senator Farhatullah Babar pointed out the disparity recently in his tweet, “It’s hypocritical to lament and protest the closing down of internet in Indian Kashmir while doing nothing to provide it in merged tribal districts, GB and parts of Balochistan.”

There is no debate that AJK and GB deserve to have access to next generation mobile services as it is evident from the fact that PTA itself initiated spectrum auctions to mobile operators in 2017 with ample spectrum for the operators to bid for. There has been no auction and the need for 3G and 4G since 2017 has only gone up.

But it’s never too late for making good decisions and if ever there was time to bring the region at par with the rest of the country, it is now. It does not require long procedures, auction processes and payment mechanisms – the government can and should allocate required spectrum to the interested cellular mobile operators against the base price and set benchmarks for launch and provision of services. This will be a welcome step for the people who would look to resume their lives in some form and be ready for the next wave of digitalization in the coming months.

When contacted, the PTA spokesman replied that all Cellular Mobile Operators (CMOs) are providing telecom services in AJ&K and GB under their cellular licenses, issued in 2006, which have almost the same spectrum bands as in Pakistan. The current licenses for AJ&K and GB will be renewed in 2021, after completing 15 years. Sufficient spectrum is currently available with cellular operators to meet the requirement keeping in view the limited user base. However, operators haul back connectivity to improve upon the existing network performance, especially for data requires more deliberation and efforts by the operators.

The GoP had issued a policy directive in 2017 to auction additional spectrum to desired licensees after fulfilling the codal formalities. However, due to certain constitutional and legal issues, additional spectrum auction is suspended. Relevant stakeholders are cognizant of the fact, and making endeavours to resolve the challenges, at priority, to complete the auction process in AJK and GB. The PTA is actively pursuing the matter with all concerned forums, the spokesman concluded.