As a regulator of the telecommunication industry, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has an important role to play in ensuring competition in the industry and that companies do not fleece customers. What is not a part of the PTA’s mandate is forcing companies to adopt its strange sense of morality. The PTA has directed to ban telecommunication companies from offering late night mobile packages where customers pay a fixed amount and are able to make unlimited calls all night. The reason this is being done is that advertisements for these packages are targeting young boys and girls who would, horror of horrors, talk to each other. The PTA considers telephonic mingling of the sexes to be a moral outrage.
This is not the first time that the PTA has played the role of the moral police. The agency frequently blocks websites that are considered offensive, usually on grounds of religion or social morality. The difference is that those bans are put in place either on the order of the courts or the interior minister. In this case, it seems that the PTA has taken the decision on its own. In doing so, it has transgressed its mandate, which does not include stopping teenage boys from talking to teenage girls.
The PTA is also doing a profound disservice to the telecommunication industry. Packages are made available because they bring in new customers who may not be able to otherwise afford a cell phone. Yes, that includes teenagers but these packages are also availed of by the poor. And by increasingly shutting off cell phone coverage on religious holidays, when the threat of terrorism is high, the government is already costing the industry billions of rupees in lost revenue. As misguided as those bans are, at least they use the fig leaf of security. To deliberately hurt the industry that you are supposed to regulate, because their advertisements hurt your morals, is ridiculous. The PTA’s time would be better spent ensuring that companies do not spout false claims and include hidden charges in these packages.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 22nd, 2012.