Telenor Pakistan has launched a unique community project, apnaPCO, which aims at bringing access to the most disadvantaged rural communities in the country.
The project has been set up with support from the Development Fund of the GSM Association (GSMA), the global trade association for mobile phone operators. Telenor Pakistan has entered into an alliance with the National Rural Support Program (NRSP) for the roll-out of the project in the most impoverished rural areas of southern Punjab. The project works on the principle of “shared access to voice,” – a term which refers to the sharing of a mobile phone, as opposed to individual ownership, in the form of a supervised public payphone.
Bridging the gap between the digitally poor and the digitally rich
Speaking about Telenor Pakistan’s launch of apnaPCO, Federal Minister for Information Technology & Telecommunications Awais Ahmed Khan Leghari said: “Despite the tremendous advances the industry has made, rural tele-density in Pakistan needs to increase greatly. Innovative community support projects like Telenor Pakistan’s apnaPCO, which empower local entrepreneurs, can help bridge the gap between the digitally poor and the digitally rich by eliminating access and affordability constraints in disadvantaged rural markets.”
“Initiatives like apnaPCO help activate social networks in communities and in the market. Telenor Pakistan has brought in GSMA’s expertise in the form of apnaPCO, as it is currently the only GSMA-supported shared access to voice initiative launched in Pakistan. On ground, Telenor Pakistan is working with NRSP, a key organization assisting in the implementation of the government’s poverty alleviation agenda. Such public-private partnerships are where the future of telecom lies for the rural poor of the world.”
Providing solutions to disadvantaged communities
Talking about Telenor Pakistan’s constant drive to innovate for the rural customer, CEO of Telenor Pakistan, Tore Johnsen, said: “We realize that rural tele-density is limited in Pakistan and that the mobile phone industry needs to reach out to rural communities in order to empower them through telecommunication. Telenor Pakistan is playing its part with great enthusiasm. Our village conversion program, partnership with NBP in the President of Pakistan’s Rozgar scheme, Telekisan – an IVR service for the farming community, and Telecom Futures program all focus on providing solutions to disadvantaged communities. ApnaPCO is another initiative in that direction. It is unique in that it is the only GSMA-supported shared access to voice initiative launched in Pakistan, and by that account has tremendous positive implications for the local market and for Pakistan internationally.
“We hope the project will bring real hope to communities and establish rural mobile telephony as a solid business proposition for the local mobile operators to look into.”
Earlier, Executive Vice President Telenor Pakistan Irfan Wahab Khan briefed participants on the details of apnaPCO. He told the audience that the apnaPCO business-in-a-box solution contains a robust phone, a Telenor SIM with free balance, a scratch card, and promotional material, and is supplemented with training by NRSP staff. The project, which was informally rolled out in Bahawalpur and Bahawalnagar districts, has shown solid business potential for local entrepreneurs and a healthy response from the targeted communities. The apnaPCO business-in-a-box solution is priced at Rs. 1999 at considerable subsidy and potentially provides coverage to 37,000 plus households in the area. Irfan said that through rigorous evaluation of the success of the project, Telenor Pakistan wants to show the market potential of the most remote rural populations for the mobile industry to consider.
Irfan also mentioned the launching of TeleKisan – Telenor Pakistan’s new IVR service for the farming community. A Telenor Pakistan customer can now utilize the Telekisan service by calling 1350 or 700 for information regarding weather forecasts, prices of different agricultural commodities in different local markets, major agricultural crops in Pakistan, agricultural problems and their remedies, agricultural news and updates, and Ahadith, Surahs, and timings of Namaz.
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