Poor internet frustrates parliamentarians

IT ministry blames SBP for ban on import of cables and machinery

Zafar Bhutta January 05, 2023


In the wake of parliamentarians expressing serious concern over poor internet service, the Ministry of IT and Telecom (MoITT) has shifted blame to the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) for a ban on opening Letters of Credit (LCs) to import the requisite machinery and cables.

“The main reason for substandard internet in the country is the non-opening of LCs,” officials of the Ministry of IT informed the parliamentary body on Wednesday.

“LCs in the telecom industry are banned by the SBP, and the country is currently facing a shortage of fibre optics,” said the officials.

The National Assembly Standing Committee on IT held a meeting, with Mir Khan Muhammad Jamali serving as Chairman. The committee members raised several questions regarding the quality of internet services in the country.

“There are neither phone signals nor internet connectivity in Karachi or Hyderabad,” a committee member lamented.

Another committee member stated that “there has been much talk of launching 5G technology in the country despite the fact that 4G service is still not widely available.”

A member of the Telecom ministry expressed concern about the country’s service quality, adding that 99 broadband lines have been released to improve internet service. Pakistan has also been connected by cable from France.

“Our question is, what is the standard service of the Internet?” inquired members of the IT committee.

They stated that there is no internet service while travelling on motorways. In addition, even Karachi, considered to be the business hub, does not have quality internet service, they lamented.

During the meeting, it was also informed that the security situation in Balochistan resulted in the closure of 148 mobile towers, which has affected internet outreach to customers.

The officials of the Universal Service Fund (USF) said that these towers are not being turned on for security reasons. USF CEO, Haris Chaudhry explained that “Terrorists had blown out internet services by damaging the infrastructure. 17 people who worked in the telecom industry were taken hostage in Balochistan last year. As soon as the security situation improves, internet services and digital connectivity will also improve.”

In addition, as many as 5,000 sites were affected by the recent floods, Member Telecom informed the standing committee on IT.

Committee members observed that the quality of mobile and internet service across the country remains very poor.

IT Ministry officials also informed the committee that the profitability of the telecom sector in Pakistan had dropped due to the current economic challenges.

However, committee member Naz Baloch said that telecom companies were making millions of rupees in Pakistan.

“You surprised me by stating that telecom companies are losing money,” replied the Chairman.

Ministry officials said that internet users had increased by 60 million in the last four years. The additional secretary of the Ministry of IT informed that from January to November last year, more than 10 million new users had been added.

“1.5 million internet users are increasing every month,” IT Ministry officials said, adding that three to four licences are being issued in a month.

Despite the precarious economic situation, new companies are coming into the telecom sector, officials said during the briefing.

They pointed out that three million people had been trained in the IT sector and that business training also included video editing. They further noted that freelancers had earned $29 million in the last year.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 5th, 2023.

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