As the internet use in the country has increased during the Covid-19 lockdowns, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has asked internet providers to offer affordable services to customers.
In a letter to Fixed Line Operators (FLO) on Thursday —a copy of which is available with Dawn — the PTA said during the ongoing lockdown across the country, the overall requirement in the country for broadband had increased considerably.
In view of the prevailing Covid-19 circumstances and mandate given under Section 4(1) C read with Section 6 (F) of the Pakistan Telecommunication (Re-organisation) Act 1996, the PTA directed all fixed-line operators to immediately launch student/work from home packages of 2Mbps (40GB data limit) at a reasonable rate of less than Rs600 (inclusive of tax) per month.
The letter further advised operators to offer more relief to its subscribers in terms of additional data on top of package limits, one-month extension in billing due dates and continuity of services to the customers if they could not pay within the due date.
However, according to the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK), the PTA had exempted itself from helping the nation in testing times and tried to pass on the entire responsibility to telecom operators.
In a letter written to PTA, ISPAK convener Wahaj us Siraj said while telcos in many countries had provided relief to their customers with better packages, they had been fully backed and subsidised by their respective governments and regulators in form of elimination of taxes, regulatory fees and provision of subsidies.
Terming the proposed package by PTA ‘irrational’, the letter said a package with 40GB data limit would be consumed in just few days. It added that one month’s extension in payment of bills could be given if PTA provided a financial guarantee for defaulters who would not pay deferred charges.
“There’s no comparison of costs of a cellular operator with fixed line operators. Deployment costs of FTTH is 30x of a cellular customer. There is no upfront cost of a cellular operator in connecting a new customer whereas FLOs installation cost for one customer is around Rs10,000,” it said.
According to ISPAK, the cost of providing internet services to customers during Covid-19 had increased. The bandwidth usage increased drastically due to which FLOs had to buy costly additional bandwidth in US dollars from upstream providers.
A reference had been pending with PTA for last three years to delink the cost of bandwidth with US dollars but nothing happened, it said.
It said the FLOs had to adopt safety measures for their employees and this added to operational costs. Revenues had also drastically decreased by 50-60pc due to corporate sector shut down, the ISPAK said, adding that the operators were struggling to keep their employees and not opting for layoffs.
The association urged the PTA to review its proposal. It urged the authority to abolish 12.5pc advance income tax and 19.5pc provincial sales tax, thus giving 32pc direct relief to internet users.
It also called for reduction in the cost of wholesale internet bandwidth of upstream providers from current $2-2.5/Mbits/month to $0.5/Mbis/month (as per international prices).
The association also urged the authority to delink bandwidth costs with USD so that internet users could get 50-100Mbps speed broadband at affordable price.
When asked for comment on the concerns raised, the PTA said it would review the letter and take action where needed.
“We have written letters to licensed operators to encourage them to launch pro-consumer offers in the wake of Covid-19. The PTA’s intentions are to act in support of all stakeholders including consumers and operators,” a PTA spokesperson told Dawn.