In November last year, the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) ordered all mobile phone companies to cease and desist their late night packages because they “run counter to the social norms and values of the country.” Today, the PTA announced it will double down on that policy by making all voice and SMS bundles illegal for “moral reasons,” reports ProPakistani.
The decision forces Pakistanis to spend more money because they have to pay per call and per text. That’s good news for big telcos, but bad news for pretty much everyone else, including up-and-coming smaller carriers and the end-users. The PTA is notorious for corruption, nepotism, and incompetence. Conspiracy theorists say the step is endorsed by the big operators, who are allegedly feeding money to the PTA under the table.
The PTA is the same agency responsible for Pakistan’s ban on YouTube, porn, and Last.fm.
The mandate takes effect on September 2, and no compensation plans have been announced. The PTA did not specify what behaviors it deemed as immoral, just that the companies offering them were advertising in ways “contrary to moral values of society” according to a November 2012 survey. The night packages were banned shortly thereafter for “spoiling the youth.” A 2010 poll conducted by ProPakistani revealed 70 percent of respondents were in favor of the closure of night packages. What that has to do with the SMS and voice bundles, however, is unclear.
Many telcos offering night packages have thus far been uncooperative, choosing to disobey the ban and offer them anyway. They will likely do the same with their voice and SMS bundles once the new rules take effect.
Many Pakistanis fear data plans are next on the hit list. Data bundles have gone unaffected so far, so many will flock to Viber and WhatsApp to get their cheap messaging fix, especially as more people have access to smartphones. The PTA in July reported Pakistan has 125 million mobile subscribers.
ProPakistani reader Ali Tahir commented:
Those who have imminent need to text would text anyway and a chunk of subscribers will move on to VoIP applications such as Viber and Whatsapp. Even less revenue for Telco’s in a market which is already over ripe for consolidation.
Another reader, Fayz Ali, replied:
Pakistan government wouldn’t hesitate to block Viber/WhatsApp. I am sure they’re next in their block list.
(Editing by Willis Wee)