The Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology and Telecommunications advocated tax breaks for the telecom industry on Tuesday, but they were not included in the mini-budget.
On Tuesday, the committee convened in Islamabad, with Kauda Babar in the chair.
Major General Amir Azeem Bajwa, Chairman of the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), stated that telecom operators will need to invest Rs 50 billion in infrastructure upgrades to fulfil the improved quality of service requirements.
He went on to say that as a result of the higher tax rate, rupee depreciation, and inflation, telecom businesses’ operating costs increased, and their profitability decreased.
“The government directly collected $2.24 billion from telecom operators on account of spectrum auction and license, besides half of it indirectly during the last two years (2019-21),” he mentioned.
The 5G spectrum auction in the nation is scheduled to take place by the end of this year or the first quarter of next year, according to Chairman PTA. He told the committee that the government has formed an advisory council led by the Finance Minister to discuss the idea to sell spectrum. After the strategy has been finalised, an international consultant will be appointed.
Dr. Shahzad Waseem, the House Leader in the Senate, questioned why just one operator, Ufone, participated in the previous auction. Chairman PTA stated that it was the sole remaining operator in the last auction and that spectrum was required. Other operators, on the other hand, spent $1.3 billion on licence renewal in 2019, in addition to receiving spectrum in previous auctions. Furthermore, the other operators are expected to be concentrating their efforts on the future 5G auction, as they did not participate in the last auction.
The government is always engaged to assist telecom operators, according to Chairman PTA, but the business has several difficulties that are reducing their profitability. He noted that Pakistan remains an appealing market with a large subscriber base.
The Ministry of Information Technology asked the Standing Committee for assistance in restoring the tax exemption. The telecom sector was promised cooperation and tax breaks by the standing committee.
Senator Afnanullah Khan inquired about the SpaceX and Starlink discussions. The Chairman of the PTA informed the committee that conversations are underway with StarLink regarding the supply of low-cost internet, but that they must first fulfil regulatory requirements. StarLink will begin its service, which will give low-cost internet connectivity to those living in distant locations, as soon as regulatory obstacles are resolved.
The National Information Technology Board Act of 2022, which was passed by the National Assembly, was scrutinised. The goal of the proposed measure, according to officials from the Ministry of Information Technology and the NITB, is to make the NITB an independent organisation so that the institution’s work may be hastened and enhanced by removing hurdles.
Officials claim that because NITB is a subsidiary, it frequently has funding delays, which hurts the fast-growing sector, particularly IT. Senator Dr. Shahzad Waseem, the Senate’s Leader of the House, inquired about the impact of NITB’s autonomy and how it would assist the country.
In response, ministry officials stated that NITB has been delivering high-quality IT services to the Pakistani government, including the e-office, NCOC application, and others. He went on to say that NITB was focused on human resource development as well. “Before beginning any project, one must go through a lengthy process to get PSDP funding, which is inappropriate for a profession like IT.” He said, “Creating an autonomous committee will remove unnecessary delays and enhance the decision-making process.”
The committee’s chairman requested that the draught law be considered clause by clause at the committee’s next meeting.
The committee was not pleased with NITB’s Track Application. During the Corona pandemic, the NITB created a pass-track application for overseas travel. Instead than providing convenience, the Pass Track programme has caused complications for passengers. Dr. Shehzad Wasim, the head of the House of Representatives in the Senate, alleged that the app’s inadequacies caused him to suffer for hours.