Pakistan Railways has decided to go against a policy approved by the federal cabinet about the right of way (ROW) for installing telecom infrastructure. This could make it more expensive to install internet cables in some areas.
The Public and Private Right of Way Policy Directive 2020, which was approved by the federal cabinet, was binding on all federal and provincial government agencies, such as cantonment areas, railways, etc.
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The policy says that “in case of public right of way, the public authority shall assess the right of way fee… on the basis of no profit, no loss” and that it cannot “treat grant of permission to licensees for the use of the right of way as a commercial benefit of the right of way, imposition of tax or revenue generation.”
The federal government told the railway ministry in February to approve its ROW policy for putting fiber-optic cables across railway tracks. This policy includes a fee structure that is the same for all operators.
Operators and ISPs worry that the move will raise business costs and cut off internet access for some people.
Pakistan Railways, on the other hand, has recently decided to not only go against the ROW policy made by the railway ministry, but also to ignore the orders made by the federal cabinet.
A railway official told that the decision was made recently by Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique. He did this because the former PTI government’s ROW policy and directive were causing the railways to lose a lot of money.
The railways minister led a meeting on June 13 at Pakistan Railways’ headquarters in Lahore. At that meeting, they talked about how “a competitive bidding among the operators/firms could be set up to get the most money for Pakistan Railways.”
It said that the railways secretary had set up a committee to suggest changes to the ROW policy and come up with a way for operators to bid against each other.
Telecom operators and internet service providers are very worried about the planned move and say it goes against the law that was agreed upon by all parties.
A top official at an internet service provider said, “This has always been a serious problem in all parts of Pakistan, and there is no guarantee that policy will be consistent.”
The official said, “The letter has not been given to us.” But if the policy was changed, the official said there would only be two options: “Either all internet and telecom companies, including PTCL, Wateen, Nayatel, and Multinet, pay very high fees to lay cables around railway areas, or we don’t offer services there.”
The railway ministry’s decision to auction the right of way instead of charging the required fee will be challenged in court by internet companies. This will slow down the process of expanding fibre broadband penetration across the country, which offers the fastest, most reliable internet at lower prices than mobile broadband.
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