In a positive development relating to enhancing digital connectivity around the country, the Universal Service Fund (USF) board has approved the award of 10 contracts worth Rs21 billion for the provision of information technology and mobile broadband services to the un-served and underserved communities in all provinces of the country. This is especially important considering the setbacks we have faced as a result of COVID and now the devastating floods.

According to reports, high-speed mobile broadband projects for highways and motorways and optic fibre cable projects will provide 4G Long-Term Evolution (LTE) connectivity and backhaul connectivity to 3.5 million people. The successful realisation of these projects will help connect 187 Union Councils with 1,554 km of optic fibre cable and ensure seamless connectivity with 622 km of un-served road segments on the M-8 motorway and N-35 highway.

These projects are part of the plan to ensure meaningful connectivity and smartphones for all policy. It is encouraging to see the government push for such projects as in this day and age, digital access should be considered a basic right. Such initiatives can help in increasing social equality, employment opportunities and digital literacy for the people of un-served and underserved areas and strengthen the foundations of our digital infrastructure.

This is particularly important in terms of increasing access to education as this is a persistent challenge that we have been grappling with. COVID resulted in unprecedented setbacks for the education sector in Pakistan as school closures affected more than 30 million children across the country. The situation has now been further exacerbated as a result of record-breaking torrential rains and flooding due to which one-third of the country has been submerged under water. According to UN estimates, the flood emergency has interrupted the education of nearly 3.5 million children in the country. Therefore, increased connectivity will help us identify innovative interventions to address learning losses by scaling up distance learning initiatives, especially for areas of the country that have historically lagged behind in terms of learning outcomes, and are now in an even more vulnerable position in light of recent events.