Communication breakdown

Published: June 14, 2010
BlackBerry users face connectivity nightmare as internet browsing continues to be blocked

BlackBerry users face connectivity nightmare as internet browsing continues to be blocked

KARACHI: Sixty thousand BlackBerry users across the country are facing internet connectivity problems in Pakistan despite an end to the ban on Facebook by the Lahore High Court (LHC) on May 31.

While mobile telecom operators insist that the restrictions are ordered by the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the regulatory body claims it has nothing to do with the continuation of the ban.

BlackBerry phones provides users with wireless access to a range of business and social networking applications, including push email, phone, SMS, internet access, organiser, social networking sites such as FaceBook, Twitter and chat messengers and so on.

However, ever since the Facebook controversy surfaced last month, users have been complaining that they are either not able to browse the internet or access Facebook and Twitter applications on their handsets.

Sajjad Zaidi, a systems engineer, says he stopped using his BlackBerry, which was provided service by Mobilink as “because of the restrictions, this expensive service became useless for me. My work requires me to monitor computer servers around the world via different websites. I used my BlackBerry phone excessively for this purpose.” He added that he now carries his laptop everywhere to be able to do his work.

“What is most annoying is the fact that we are being charged the full amount even though we are not getting the full range of services,” says another annoyed BlackBerry user, Sophia Khwaja, a professor at an art college in Islamabad. “We are not being given the option of a refund or a cut in our monthly fee. Meanwhile, telecom companies continue to make huge profits as usual.”

Mobilink, Telenor, Ufone, Warid and Zong all charge Rs1000 plus tax per month from BlackBerry users.

Shiraz Malik, a corporate manager at an information technology firm in Karachi, says that although he’s able to access emails and chat messengers on his Blackberry which has a Telenor connection, “internet browsing is not working at all”.

Engineer Tariq Mustafa says that Ufone BlackBerry users are facing the same problems. “Nothing works,” he says, adding that the telecom operators are not telling them when services will be restored in full.

According to the head of communications at Ufone, Moazzam Khan, Pakistan has about 60,000 BlackBerry users. The bulk of these customers are with Mobilink, Ufone and Telenor. Although companies such as Ufone have witnessed an exponential growth in BlackBerry usage over the years, the fact is that the figure is still just a fraction of the total number of mobile phone users in the country. According to the PTA, 97.3 million people (or 59.40 per cent of the total population of the country) were mobile phone subscribers by the end of April 2010.

Khan claims that internet browsing is working on the Ufone network although he admits that Facebook remains blocked. “Our BlackBerry services were never blocked, that is, emails and messenger were working throughout the time, and only browsing was blocked as per PTA directives,” he says.

Mobilink spokesperson Hyder Bilgrami says that “web links blocking is not available on BlackBerry for any operator in Pakistan. Since there is still blasphemous content which needs to be blocked, the regulator has advised all operators to find a solution to this and till the time keep browsing blocked.”

Meanwhile, the head of communications at Telenor, Affan Haider, says that “the PTA has asked all cellular operators to suspend internet browsing facility via BlackBerry.

Telenor will comply with this directive until further instructions from the regulator. BlackBerry customers, however, can continue to browse the internet on their handsets via normal GPRS connections.”

However, PTA Public Relations Director Khurram Mehran says the regulator should not be blamed for the inconvenience suffered by BlackBerry consumers. “The problem is at the end of telecom operators who are unable to block blasphemous material on BlackBerry due to their own technical glitches. The PTA is implementing the court order and asked operators to filter offensive websites.”

All mobile telecom operators offer BlackBerry facilities under license from Research in Motion Ltd. (RIM), a Canada-based company. The problem, insiders within the telecom companies say, is that the BlackBerry software by RIM doesn’t have the option to block websites. A new solution needs to be worked out in consultation with RIM, and until such time, internet browsing will remain a problem. “Also, the telecom companies fear that if they open internet browsing on BlackBerry and any alleged blasphemous content appears on it, they might end up facing a complete ban by the LHC,” says a senior engineer at one of the mobile telecom companies.

Also, even though the PTA claims that it has nothing to do with the restrictions on BlackBerry, the detailed judgment of the Lahore High Court released on May 31 states otherwise. The Ministry of Information Technology’s reply to the court is also attached with the verdict and it clearly states that the ministry had issued directions to the PTA on May 18 to comply with the LHC’s order to ban FaceBook.

PTA then instructed all Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to immediately block the website. However, when the PTA discovered that Facebook was still accessible via BlackBerry and link-based blocking could not be done at the telecom operator level because BlackBerry controls lie outside the country with the RIM, BlackBerry services were suspended throughout the country on May, 20, 2010 at 12:30 am.

However, later, BlackBerry was restored “only for e-mail access and not for internet surfing”. The reply to the court added that on the ministry’s directives, a total of 10,548 web-links apart from Facebook were also blocked.

Barrister Zahid Jamil, an expert on IT and cyber crime laws, says measures to block and filter run counter to the fundamental architecture of the internet. “Blocking is basically an unsophisticated workaround or a ‘jugarh’ and is hence technically unfeasible.”

Published in the Express Tribune, June 14th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Shareef Ajnabi
    Jun 14, 2010 - 5:45AM

    > BlackBerry software by RIM doesn’t
    > have the option to block websites. A
    > new solution needs to be worked out in
    > consultation with RIM

    Yeah….right… good luck with that!! Unlike the idiocy being espoused here… it’s unlikely, at best, the people at RIM are going to help governments block/censor websites. Barrister Jamil is absolutely correct in stating that blocking websites is technically unfeasible. If I **choose** to, I could at this point access any of the websites blocked by the PTA. The fact of the matter is that **I exercise my right to choose not to!!** All the PTA/high court/government has managed to do is pander to the mob. They could have played this a lot more sensibly by condemning the actions of the individuals who were responsible for the blasphemous content. Prove to the world that we are above such crass baiting…

    Instead they’ve gone and proved nothing more than how remarkably uneducated/ignorant the leaders of this country are. Instead of focusing on alleviating poverty, restoring the rule of law, and trying to face the myriad other problems plaguing Pakistan, the best our incompetent and corrupt leaders can do is try to ban a few pages on the internet…

    “Democracy is the best revenge” … makes a great slogan… if you’re a 12-year-old … and a particularly dense one at that. Democracy has nothing to do with revenge…. democracy empowers a nation to mature beyond personal vendettas… it entitles a government to **serve** its people!! When was the last time any of these government flunkies did any kind of serving???

    I do realise this has become quite a rant, but this kind of puerile drivel from the mouths of uneducated sycophants makes my blood boil. I can only hope and pray that one day this great country will find a soul brave enough to lead us out of this mess.Recommend

  • Syed A. Mateen
    Jun 14, 2010 - 9:14AM

    Use ordinary cell phone and carry the laptop. This is the only solution.

    Even US President Obama is not using BlackBerry cell phone any more.Recommend

  • MS
    Jun 14, 2010 - 1:49PM

    Matten, you cannot say that we should all just use regular cell phones and carry laptops around.
    1) they are bulky
    2) the crime rate in this country is extremely high, so until the law enforcements can provide us with security to carry laptops (which can’t be hidden) it is NOT feasible to do this.

    The Gov’t should realize that by them putting such emphasis on this, people will automatically want to look at the websites. They should have acted in a more civilized and sensible way. What we have proved to the world is that we don’t care about you all, we don’t care about business being done within the country and in collaboration with other countries, and we don’t care about our own users. Does the gov’t realize how many people and businesses are being affected by this childish behavior? Its like a child saying, I’ve had enough of you, I don’t want to play with you anymore, “Jao mein nahi khelraha tumsey”

    We need to grow up. And we need to learn how to deal with other countries in a civilized way. By this we have not proven anything, except that we are children. Do we really think that RIM will drop everything and start working on a way to block websites, just because of 60,000 users?Recommend

  • SMK
    Jun 14, 2010 - 2:36PM

    It is possible to browse the Web on a BlackBerry. For a Telenor connection, simply open the browser, select Options > Browser Configuration and in Browser: select Telenor WAP. Settings for other operators should be similar.Recommend

  • JT
    Jun 15, 2010 - 12:32PM

    It’s extremely annoying that not only can I not browse the web, I cant keep up to date using my Apps. I used to read the news on RSS feeds using Viigo, find directions to places using Google maps (working horrendously slow) and other miscellaneous web based apps that helped my productivity. God forbid we see any blasphemy on the net. Oh, how that will that destroy the republic of Pakistan.

    Democracy, Secularism ? Its a shame to even call ourselves that anymore.

    I have a suggestion, why doesnt Mobilink, Ufone et all circulate a reco, asking users to sign that if they they are muslim, they wont use Facebook. Those who sign will be granted the splendor of the digital age (and perhaps even a house along the banks of the river of wine in heaven). We pulled a silly stunt like that with the Ahmedis, and continue to do so so whats stopping us now ? All we need is a bright president at the Helm to lead us to Facebook Liberation.

    P.S. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter for my own personal reasons on the BB

    P.S.S This post is steeped in angsty sarcasm, so for those with the sarcasm filter on lets not retaliate by posting hate-mailRecommend

  • Atif
    Jun 15, 2010 - 3:05PM

    The only way to get your BB services restored is to sign off your BB subscription and i assure you that this action will exert tremendous pressure on telcos to find a quick solutionRecommend

  • Hassaan
    Jun 15, 2010 - 3:44PM

    When i contacted PTA, their representative said that Blackberry services have not been enabled as a directive has not been received from the Government to do so. This is absurd as all the directives to block AND to unblock all blasphemous content was received from the LHC. The cellular operators still maintian that PTA has to give them the approval to unblock Blackberry services. All subscribers are being charged the same amount without internet being provided. An alternate service via WAP has been started by ufone atleast, which stops working at night and then the device needs to be master re-setted. It does not work at the same speed and, no applications work. It definitely has become frustrating as all subscribers get to hear is “sir bohat jald bahaal ho jaingi”…something they have been saying since May 20th.Recommend

  • Taimur
    Jun 15, 2010 - 10:37PM

    Zahid Jamil an expert on IT laws ??? gimme a break !Recommend

  • AAQ
    Jun 20, 2010 - 5:00PM

    I endorse the idea floated by Atif and that of JT, as apparently there’s no logic left to retain a BIS anymore, instead one should get a GPRS 24hrs ON connection on a standard handset & use Nokia Messaging for push email instead of being a **BIS user**. The service providers should also be sane enough to stop **minting money** for charging FULL for BIS and NOT providing the same!!!Recommend

  • Uzair
    Sep 5, 2010 - 10:18PM

    I am thinking of switching to iPhone and Pay 400 P/M for unlimited Internet. BB Operators are just crap in Pakistan.Recommend

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