WASHINGTON/ KARACHI: Pakistan has the lowest rate of people online, and it has not helped its attitude towards internet and the effect it has on its society, education and politics, a survey by the PEW research centre found.
According to the Pew Global Attitudes 2014 survey released on Thursday, just eight per cent of Pakistanis said they had access to internet, the worst response to the survey of 32 emerging and developing nations, just ahead of Bangladesh (11%) and Uganda (15%). But it was encouraging that 12% of the people said they had a working computer at their home.
This was higher than the likes of India (11%), Nigeria (10%), Tanzania (nine per cent) and Bangladesh (eight per cent) with Uganda bottom (three per cent) and a median of 38%.
Official government figures however put internet penetration at over 30 million – or nearly 16% of the population. According to the PTA, there are over 12.4 million broadband connections alone, or nearly seven per cent of the country’s population.
While the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) and the Ministry of Information Technology have claimed immense success in furthering telecommunication in the country, the report presented a different picture altogether.
Polled between April 15 and May 7, 2014, less than half (47%) of the respondents said they carried a cell phone, with only four per cent saying they owned a 'smart-phone'.
Nearly 96% of the respondents said they did not have a landline connection at their home.
According to the report there was a correlation between poverty and dwindling access to internet and cellular devices.
Read: Tech-savvy Punjab: CM approves free public Wi-Fi across province
As per PTA, Pakistan has a teledensity of 76.65% (February 2015 data). Of this, mobile teledensity stands at 73.23% with over 136.63 million connections. Meanwhile, fixed land line connections number only 3.17 million at a teledensity of 3.02%.
Since its advent in June 2014, 3/4G subscribers have soared past 10.3 million in February 2015.
Pakistan’s moral dilemma with the internet
Pakistan’s history with the internet has been chequered. While struggling with increasing access to internet, either through broadband or mobile spectrums, it has repeatedly walked into moral dilemmas with regards to blasphemy or pornography. No wonder then that Pakistan views internet’s impact on its social morals negatively.
With YouTube blocked in the country since September 2012 over a sacrilegious film and requesting Facebook to block 54 pieces of content in the country between July –December 2014 on account of blasphemy, 31% of the respondents in the Pew survey said the internet has had a bad influence on morality.
In contrast, only 20% of the respondents felt the internet had had a positive impact on societal morals. Only five per cent believed the Internet had had no influence on morals. 43 % either did not know or refused to answer.
With the political minefields moving online in recent years and social media campaigns heavily influencing political narratives, 20% of Pakistanis thought the internet was a good influence on politics, with 16% believing it was a bad influence.
Pakistanis were more ambivalent on the impact internet has on personal relationships with 23% of the respondents saying it had a positive effect, but 21% said the internet had had a bad influence. The story was similar for views on the internet’s impact on the economy with 22% believing it had positive influence, while 16% thought it had a bad influence, burgeoning e-commerce notwithstanding.
Read: Ban in place: Two years on, YouTube stays shut
However, there was optimisim towards the internet’s perceived impact on education with 38% believing it had a positive influence on education. Only 16% thought the internet had had a bad influence on education.
Increasing use of phones for picture, videos
While cell phone usage may not be as widespread as believed, people are increasingly using their devices to take pictures and videos.
Of the respondents, 28% said they use their phones for pictures or videos. The median for taking pictures and videos was 55%.
However, texting was far more prevalent use of phones with 37% of the respondents saying they regularly use their phones to exchange short messages (SMS). But this was far short of the 76% median.
Emerging nations see benefits, problems with Internet
People in emerging economies saw the Internet as a good thing for education and the economy, but worried about its impact on morality.
The Pew Research Center global survey showed a median of 64% of respondents in 32 emerging and developing nations say the Internet is a positive for education.
A majority also see the Internet as a good influence on personal relationships and the economy, but offer a mixed view on other impacts, the Pew Global Attitudes survey showed.
Asked about the Internet's impact on politics, 36% said the Internet is good, but 30% said it was negative.
Meanwhile, 42% said the Web is a bad influence on morality, with 29 percent saying it is positive.
The survey highlights ambivalence toward the Internet in countries with varying numbers of people online -- from just eight percent in Pakistan to 76% in Chile.
Pew researchers noted that Internet use is growing fast in these countries, largely due to increased use of smartphones accessing the mobile Web,
"Once online, Internet users in emerging and developing nations have embraced socialising as their most preferred type of digital activity," the report said.
"Majorities of Internet users in all countries surveyed with large enough sample sizes to analyse say they stay in touch with friends and family online through social networking sites. Many also use cyberspace for getting information about politics, health care and government services."
The survey found people who have Internet access are generally more positive about its influence on society. And the more highly educated people also were more likely to see the Internet as beneficial.
Among the 32 countries surveyed, the median percentage of people online was 44%.
"Internet use is highest in the wealthiest of the emerging nations, particularly in Chile and Russia, where more than seven in 10 have Internet access," the report said, noting that these rates are still behind the US percentage of 87%.
"The lowest Internet rates are in some of the poorest countries surveyed. Just eight percent of Pakistanis and 11% of Bangladeshis either say they access the Internet at least occasionally or own a smartphone."
Computers remain out of reach of most people in many of the countries surveyed. The percentage of people with access to a PC varied from 78% in Russia to three percent in Uganda, with a median of 38%.
An estimated 84% of people in these countries had access to some type of cell phone, but the percentage was just 24% for an Internet-capable smartphone, the survey found.
In only two of the countries surveyed did a majority own a smartphone -- 58% in Chile and 55% in China, in line with the 58% in the United States.
A separate report last month by Facebook's Internet.org initiative found that the Internet is used only by about 29.8% in developing nations.
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