The Global mobile ecosystem organisation, Groupe Speciale Mobile Association (GSMA), has expressed its concern over the continued shutdown of broadband internet services in Pakistan. The country has been experiencing prolonged outages, which have severely impacted citizens’ health, education, social and economic well-being. The disruptions have also affected businesses and investment in the telecom sector, prompting the GSMA to call for an end to the internet disruptions.
In an emergency letter to Federal Minister of Information Technology and Telecommunication, Syed Aminul Haq, the GSMA highlighted the impact of the internet shutdowns, which have been ongoing for four consecutive days in several parts of the country. The organisation urged the government to take measures to ensure that such suspensions do not continue, especially in circumstances that are avoidable.
The GSMA emphasised that the shutdown of internet services has not only affected consumers but has also caused a significant loss to businesses in the telecom sector. The disruptions are also affecting investment and economic management measures for Pakistan. It is essential to note that the GSMA’s concerns extend beyond the economic aspect, and the organisation is also emphasising the importance of human rights in relation to internet services.
The GSMA has urged the government to restrict shutdowns to only unavoidable circumstances, in accordance with relevant laws, most notably the International Human Rights Convention and the ITU Constitution. The suspension of internet services has also impacted e-commerce, online services, home delivery and ride-hailing apps, which have been unable to operate efficiently during the shutdown.
The matter is pending before the Lahore High Court, which has sought replies from the federal government and Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) by May 22. The plea seeks directions to restore internet services and resume the operations of social media platforms, including WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. However, the LHC Justice Sheikh had turned down the petitioner’s request to grant interim relief by immediately passing directions to restore the internet services.
The disruptions have caused a loss of at least Rs1.6 billion to telecom companies, while the government has suffered a loss of Rs570 million in revenue from telecom companies. The GSMA has condemned the decision to suspend internet services and urged the government to take measures to restore normalcy as soon as possible.
In conclusion, the GSMA’s concerns over the suspension of internet services in Pakistan highlight the importance of internet access and its impact on individuals, businesses, and the economy. The organisation’s call to restrict shutdowns to only unavoidable circumstances is a reminder of the importance of protecting human rights, even during times of crisis. The matter is currently pending before the Lahore High Court, and it remains to be seen how the government will respond to the GSMA’s concerns.