Pakistan’s internet use surges amid coronavirus lockdown
There has been a 15% surge in internet usage since the lockdown came into effect, says PTA
LAHORE: From binge-watching the Turkish drama series Resurrection: Ertugrul on Netflix to video calls with family and friends, Pakistanis are keeping themselves quite occupied while staying at home amid coronavirus pandemic.
According to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), there has been a 15% surge in internet usage since the lockdown came into effect on March 24.
Currently, the number of coronavirus cases in the country crossed 6,800 as the total confirmed death toll reached to 128 on Thursday.
"This is the highest surge we have seen ever. Facebook, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram, TikTok and Netflix are the most popular social media apps being used during these days, and most of the trends on social media apps are related to Covid-19 developments and initiatives taken by the government in this regard," PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran said.
Often called the Turkish Game of Thrones by fans, Resurrection: Ertugrul tells the story of the period prior to the establishment of the Ottoman Empire around the life of Ertugrul Gazi, the father of the empire's first leader in 13th century Anatolia (now Turkey).
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"More content is being streamed online compared to downloads. According to the numbers on Netflix, Money Heist is trending at No. 1 and Turkish drama series Resurrection: Ertugrul is trending at No. 2," Mehran added.
Dr Farhan Virk, a social media activist, said: "Only the privileged have access to Netflix. The rest are sharing content like the series Ertugrul via pen drives. There is already a trend on Twitter in which people are asking state TV to run this series with Urdu dubbing."
According to Turkey's Ministry of Culture and Tourism, dozens of Turkish series are being followed by more than 500 million viewers in over 150 countries.
While giving an interview to a local channel, President Dr Arif Alvi mentioned the bandwidth challenges faced by Pakistan.
"We are preparing a draft in which after consulting PTA and the finance and tech ministries, we will suggest to decrease the tax rate on internet packages and increase the bandwidth capacity so students and officials can access better quality internet," he said.
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Video conferencing apps
The Higher Education Commission also announced that it is working with telecommunications companies to offer data bundles to university students at cheaper rates.
"Video conferencing apps have gained popularity. Most of the schools are offering online classes through applications such as Google Classroom. Use of e-commerce and entertainment applications has also picked up. The Higher Education Commission is also making a plan with telecom companies in which special data bundles will be offered to students in which they can use the internet at cheaper rates from 8am to 12 noon," the PTA spokesperson said.
The surge in internet use is also raising alarms over privacy breaches which are likely to increase in the coming days. Privacy issues will always remain a challenge in Pakistan due to the model of services being provided by third parties not conforming to the existing licensing regime.
"Currently, the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act is facilitating authorities in protecting internet users in Pakistan. But standard procedures do not work during emergencies. Swift action is needed, especially when a sense of uncertainty is engulfing people's lives. The last thing they need is for the only outlet for human interaction to be unsafe," said Hija Kamran, who leads digital rights advocacy at Media Matters for Democracy.
Celebrities in lockdown
From distributing rations among the destitute to giving live performances through their social media platforms, celebrities are keeping public morale high during self-isolation.
"As a public figure in Pakistan, I've been quite active when it comes to helping out the core base of this country, our daily wagers, where the Ali Zafar Foundation has been actively providing rations to those in need and encouraging everyone who is capable to do the same," actor and musician Ali Zafar said.
"In addition to this, through my social media assets, I've been spreading awareness as well as assisting our local bodies on policymaking when it comes to dealing with the fight against Covid-19."
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While entertaining people, some celebrities are focusing only on children and using their platforms to tell mothers how they can keep them busy through various artistic activities.
Leading TV actress Amina Sheikh started a YouTube channel called MeissaMama in which she tells Urdu stories to children.
"I started telling children Urdu stories online so they can learn their culture better. All the leading content available on social media or in academics is in English, so I started this platform to encourage parents and children to adopt Urdu in their quarantine time," she said.