As 2011 Comes to a Close…

AS 2011 COMES TO A CLOSE I THOUGHT I SHOULD HAVE A LAST LOOK AT MY TIME WITH USF (Universal Service Fund) Pakistan! Not that I will scratch it from my memory after this, but fact is that I won’t have much to say about it, except always wishing USF lots and lots of success.

It was an exciting and extremely fulfilling experience spread over four years and seven months. During the first weeks, it was almost weird, I was the only employee whose main concern was hiring a team and making the premises ready (which included getting worn-out carpets replaced with tiles). Very little help was available, exceptions being Mr. Baqai (to whom I am indebted for his invaluable advice and his help in selection of first team members), my former colleague from Siemens Mr. Masood Abassi (who helped me a lot with the logistics) and colleagues of MoIT, including its then Federal Secretary Mr. Farrukh Qayyum.

During those initial days (May 2007) a World Bank Mission came on a visit and since the USF model had been structured by World Bank consultants, the Mission was greatly interested with whatever was going on. I remember one member (Mr. Rajendra?) wanted my opinion as to by when USF would be able to carry out it’s first auction and sign the Subsidy Agreement for services in an unserved ‘Lot’. When I answered that I expected it to be within six months, he looked at me with the skeptic expression of, “He doesn’t know what he is talking about” and remarked that if that were to happen, I should get a Nobel Prize! We signed our first agreement on 4th October 2007 – in 5 months.

The secret of success was simply an awesome core team (for me, our first “team-building exercise” at Bhurban resort was significant). Thanks to the team, we started three programs one after the other, following extensive consultations and open forums with the stakeholders. We gained momentum with every passing month. Until May 2010, that is. That was when things went haywire and we hit a bad patch. There was nothing wrong within the USF (proven by several independent audits), it was all from outside, but very damaging. Thank God that by mid-2011, we came out of it, but the USF program suffered and as a consequence people of those unserved areas where we were steaming ahead, could not get services in time. But every cloud has a silver lining – the crisis convinced many that we had been doing our job cleanly and transparently.

There were several other challenges too, the biggest being the war-like situation in some of the remote USF areas and the (understandable) reluctance of Cellcos to bid in sparsely populated remote areas, where the operational costs are high and revenues are low. But at USF we were determined not to give up and to keep pressing ahead, wherever it was possible.

Now after four-and-half years I look back with satisfaction that, despite loss of more than a year, USF could make significant achievements. A total of Rs. 17 Billion (aprox US$ 200Mil) had been committed by USF as subsidy for ICT services in unserved areas that would surely help bring a silent ICT revolution in the hinterlands of Pakistan. The projects where bidding process was almost complete (but formal launching was to be done) amounted to an additional Rs. 6 Billion ($ 70 Mil). Among the provinces, largest share so far went to Balochistan – rightly so due to its large but neglected area. All this was done in an open, fair and transparent manner as duly acknowledged by all stakeholders.

So far USF provided basic voice telephony services to more than 3,500 villages; brought optic fiber connectivity (information motorways) to 58 unserved Tehsils (sub-districts) by laying nearly 4,000 kilometers of optic fiber cables in remote and difficult areas; sowed seeds of broadband in 256 smaller towns and cities (latest: 334,000 households and businesses had subscribed to broadband connections there) with providing free broadband to 943 Higher Secondary Schools (HSSs), Colleges and Libraries in those towns and cities, and establishing 291 Community Broadband Centers there.

And not to forget the about-to-be-launched program with anticipated most far-reaching impact, ie: an innovative program of broadband telecenters (with village-hotspots!) starting with a pilot project in 24 villages of all the four provinces. The pilot aims at discovering a self-sustaining model to provide education, training and eServices to the vast Pakistani population (above 60%) living in villages. Three to five hundred such telecenters are planned within this fiscal year alone.

There are several on-going projects where contracts are signed and work is under way. These include: 2,500 kms of optic fiber cables to connect another 44 unserved Tehsils in Balochistan, bringing broadband to another 230 HSSs/Colleges/Libraries plus 54 Community Broadband Centers.

Then there are projects where bidding process is complete but contracts are yet to be signed. These include voice telephony for 102 villages of Balochistan; optic fiber connectivity for 5 remote tehsils of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and broadband for 73 towns of Sindh, together with 93 Community Broadband Centers and 206 HSSs/Colleges/Libraries there.

In addition there are projects where pre-bid studies have been done and bids have been invited. These include broadband for 22 towns of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, along with the Broadband Community Centers and broadband for HSSs/Colleges/Libraries. Necessary pre-bid studies for several other projects were either complete or under way.

With such a vibrant and ambitious agenda and a core team of dedicated individuals who are fully capable of taking all kinds of challenges, USF is well on it’s way to make a mark to bridge the digital divide in Pakistan.

I sincerely wish USF Pakistan all the success in the world…

 

As 2011 Comes to a Close…

11 thoughts on “As 2011 Comes to a Close…”

  1. Hats off to you and your team..well done,applause.. now its time to move on as many other ventures are waiting to be nurtured by your excellence…all the best

  2. Sir, wonderful job you have done. I so wish that other government institutes such as National ICT R&D Fund and especially PTA could have done such detailed work as well.

    Best of luck for your future ventures.

  3. It was a wonderful experience to interact with you while executing ICT project at PETARO.I wish you very best of luck in your future assignments and God speed.Looking forward for more interaction.May you happen to be in this part of the country,it will be a pleasure to host you at Cadet College PETARO. WARM REGARDS

  4. I am sorry to see you leave USF Pakistan. You are one of the main reasons, why I am holding up USF Pakistan as a shining example of a successful USF.

    I wish you all the best in your next endeavor.

  5. Sad to see you move on, great achievements in such short time – you have really made a difference with what you have done !!

    Sorry to see you leave, good luck with everything you move on to

  6. Job very well done–however this is the reward for doing great/transparent job in our unfortunate country dominated by vultures.
    I cannot stop myself from recounting my leaving PTA as Memeber Technical after leading PTA into the only transparent bidding for two mobile licenses and numerious fixed line licenses (LDI & LL) –acknowledged by the telecom circles of the whole world–against all odds.
    Issues created by deregulation process undertaken by PTA after my departue, under the same Chairman, for AJK & NA, still haunt the Operators and the PTA
    Goodwork comes back to help you in your future; so shall it for you–best wishes
    Naseem Ahmed Vohra

  7. Parvez,
    > I’ve read your blog and you’ve got a lot to be proud of – it’s a terrific achievement to set up USF and you’ve made a positive difference to many people’s lives. No doubt you’ll rise just as well to your next challenge and I wish you every success in the future. [and a great picture at the top of the blog!]
    Yours,
    Tim

  8. Parvez, I write this with mixed emotions, that being your friend and seeing what you have accomplished in your country and now moving on and that what you have accomplished for many countries around the world through your sessions with us and many other USF focused engagements. Your professionalism, experience and accomplishements are unsurpased. I am looking foward in our continued continuity of expanding USF funded services in an indescrimite way to all that need it. Good luck
    ralph

  9. Parvez-

    Congratulations on your nearly five years of hard work, and the admirable success you have achieved with USF Pakistan! We at GBI frequently cite Pakistan as a shining example of the good things that can be accomplished by a well-run and capable USF. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors, and hope we will again find occasion to work together. Take care my friend.

    Eric

  10. I saw earlier in the newspaper that CEO of USF has been changed, and than I started thinking about the future of USF. USF has a succesful story during its last 4 n half years, and it is only because of your dedication and administrative qualities and that we already know while you were ED-COM Division. I am glade that by then I used to work for your in Shared Service. Good luck and all the best for your future endeavors.

  11. I have been following up on your blog from before and am happy to see the new post and look forward to seeing more. It is because of such excellent work from team like yours that our telecom sector is expanding so rapidly. I hope very soon the rural areas of Pakistan will be transformed by the power of modern telecommunication.

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