ISLAMABAD (APP): Minister for Information Technology and Telecommunications (MoIT) Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui on Thursday said Pakistan was making utmost endeavours for bridging digital divide and providing communication access to underserved regions and remote areas. He was addressing the inaugural session of a three-day (December 13-15) 19th-Meeting of South Asian Telecom Regulators Council (SATRC-19), organized by Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) in collaboration with Asia-Pacific Telecommunity (APT).  The agenda for SATRC this year includes topics of concern for developing countries on critical issues like digital infrastructure and new technologies, increasing broadband penetration, spectrum management, technology & policy considerations and innovation  towards 5G era. The Minister said first ever digital policy of Pakistan envisions the country to become a strategic enabler for an accelerated digitization eco-system to expand knowledge based economy and spur socio-economic growth.

The policy aims to establish and build a framework for  setting-up incubation centers in provincial capitals and major  secondary cities. This will facilitate and nurture new Information  and Communication Technology (ICT) entrepreneurs and start-up  by tapping a vast network of business partners and mentors  including specialized innovation centers in thematic areas such as FinTech, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things and Robotics.

He said MoIT is continuously working on new projects for  maximum economic impact through collaboration, digitization,  research and innovation in new emerging technologies within  the ICT and other socioeconomic sectors.

He said Telecom Policy and recently announced Digital Pakistan  Policy envisions us to become a strategic enabler for an  accelerated digitization ecosystem which propagates knowledge based economy and spurs socio-economic growth.

The Minister said the government was also planning  for development of IT zones, software technology parks at  major cities, and to finance research & development activities,  entrepreneurship and innovation.

He appreciated efforts of PTA and APT to promote  regional harmony and knowledge exchange through platform of SATRC and vowed to provide continuous patronage from government  for such efforts.

Dr. Khalid Maqbool said the government was also planning  development of IT zones, software technology parks in major cities. Regarding on-going initiatives, he said, these include  Digi-Skills which is Pakistan's largest online free training  programme to equip a million of people across the country with  digital skills over a period of two years. The ICT women is  another initiative under which thousands of girls are being trained at state of the art computer labs under coaching and  training programme of Microsoft. It is expected to train over  1,10,000 girls per year and, as a part of this programme, 150  digital labs are being established throughout Pakistan at Women Empowerment Centres.

He said, "The changes we have witnessed in recent years and those we are currently witnessing, will surely not be the  last. We cannot be entirely sure what competition and  technology lies beyond horizon but with right approach, regional  cooperation and active participation, we can work together - sturdy  and resolute in face of challenges and make an impact."

He said over next two days, there will be an opportunity to  share experiences and ideas to explore and address some of key policy and regulatory issues in lCT today and to foster spirit of collaboration, cooperation and harmonization. 

On the occasion, Ms. Areewan Haorangsi, Secretary  General, Asia-Pacific Telecommunity said this event would  assist regulatory bodies of member countries in acquiring  knowledge and skills to address common challenges facing the  region.

In addition, it will also promote cooperation and dialogue between regulators and industry to introduce best regional  and international practices in member countries. 

Current Chairman of the SATRC and Chairman of Nepal  Telecommunication Authority, Digambar Jha said the discussions  and outcome of this meeting shall have significant impact on  telecommunication/ICT industry in South-Asian countries which covers a large percentage of population of Asia-Pacific region.

The South Asian region has seen very rapid development of telecommunication network and services. In this era of  telecommunication innovations, SATRC provides regular  capacity building opportunities for officers of member  countries.

Earlier, in his welcome remarks, Chairman PTA,  Muhammad Naveed said PTA has been an active member of the  SATRC and will continue to share its regulatory wisdom and  regulatory skills with regional regulators.

He said that the government of Pakistan has entrusted  us with task of providing state-of-the-art ICT services to people.

While creating smarter communities, PTA ensures affordable and broad-based communications access to the consumers. Initiation of implementation of 5G policy directive for taking broadband to maximum speed and issuance of third  party service provider's license for increasing financial  inclusion are the major initiatives.

He said Device Identification Registration & Blocking  System (DIRBS) has been introduced for proper registration  of mobile handsets while online No Objection Certificate (NoC) portal for import of handsets and online interactive  remote education initiative are some of other recent success stories  of PTA which will be shared with other regulators through this meeting.

Similarly, PTA favours learning from experiences of APT countries and to find solutions to common issues and areas of  common interest and collaborations. 

This may be noted that SATRC conducts training programmes  and research activities with help of experts from member countries of the Council. The Council meeting is an annual meeting of Heads of member countries where SATRC Action Plans are discussed and approved. The meeting is being attended by delegates from different countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Iran, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and representatives from regional and national telecom multi-national companies.