Mapping Net Neutrality: Basic Analysis of NN Landscape in Pakistan | Part -1

Image Courtesy: SaveTheInternet.com

In Pakistan, net neutrality is a term used mostly by a handful of digital rights organisations and industry bodies – in the grassroots, internet consumers and the mainstream media there appears to be little or no comprehension of the context. The government appears to be taking a laid back attitude towards improving the situation. In the last few years, Pakistan has seen various instances where the issue of net neutrality should have been of prime importance but didn’t even feature as a part of the debate. Since the violations of net neutrality hasn’t surfaced as a serious issue of concern, there is no way to take action against such issues – even the protest against these is limited to a very small sub section of civil society groups and people can be heard applauding the free access to Facebook and twitter and other such platforms on different mobile networks.

 

  1. Internet Regulation in Pakistan

Pakistan has been without proper legislation for cyberspace since 2009, when the Prevention of Electronic Crime Ordinance expired. Recently, the draft of a new legislation has been approved by a standing committee of the National Assembly and is ready to be tabled in the Parliament. This draft, as per the State Minister of Information Technology, Ms. Anusha Rehman, has been made in compliance with the National Action Plan for counterterrorism, NAP [1]. As this demonstrates, the regulation of internet in Pakistan is a story of complexities. Technically, the regulation policy has be drafted and overseen by a Federal Ministry, The Ministry of Information Technology [2]. However, the political and security framework of the state has resulted in the ICTs becoming a factor of concern for various other state institutions as well. Resultantly, we have seen the involvement of Ministry of Interior [3], Ministry of Information and Broadcasting [4] and various sections of the security establishment in the actual regulation of the internet.

The Ministry of Information Technology works to “create an enabling environment through formulation and implementation of policies and legal framework; providing ICT infrastructure for enhancing productivity; facilitating good governance; improving delivery of public services and contributing towards the overall socio economic growth of the country” [5]. Under the ministry, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority [6] remains at the centre of internet and telecom regulation. The Authority was established under Reorganisation Act 1996 (of Pakistan Telecommunication Ordinance 1994), to regulate the establishment, operation and maintenance of telecommunication systems, and the provision of telecom service [7]. PTA promotes is vision to “create a fair regulatory regime to promote investment, encourage competition, protect consumer interest and ensure high quality ICTS services” [8]

Apart from MoIT and PTA, the Ministry of Interior has also been involved in various decisions regarding internet and telecommunications. The decisions regarding disconnections of communication networks and at times the blocking of access to content have come directly from the Ministry of Interior. The major involvement of departments other than the MoIT has been through now defunct Inter Ministerial Committee.

Inter-Ministerial Committee for Website Evaluation that has till recently had the responsibility of web content management in PTA. The actual composition of the committee was never made public. The committee was disbanded [9] following a constitutional petition [10] by digital rights organisation Bolo Bhi. The Ministry of Interior is also involved in the regulation of the internet through the National Response Centre for Cyber Crime [11], housed under the Federal Investigation Agency.

 

  1. Internet Landscape in Pakistan

Internet penetration in Pakistan is steadily growing – According to Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan, ISPAK, there are currently 25 million internet users, 15 million mobile users using edge and GPRS services and 1.7 broadband connections [12] in the country.  Tele-density in the country has been increasing at a very fast pace.

Total Teledensity in Pakistan- PTA [13]

With the roll out of 3G and 4G services in 2014, and the increase in availability of cheap smartphones, it is expected that the numbers would be a definite improvement in 2015.

 

  1. Key Incidents of Net Neutrality Violations

Most recently, Telenor, in collaboration with Facebook launched internet.org initiative in Pakistan, with which all Telenor customers — both prepaid and postpaid — will be able to use selected internet websites for free. (via propakistan.pk) See full story here

One of the most prominent violations of the net neutrality principles has been at the hand of Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited, PTCL, the largest ICT services provider in Pakistan. In March 2014, PTCL entered into an agreement with Dailymotion [14]. According to a news report, under this agreement, Pakistani users will be able to watch the Dailymotion videos with fast speed [15]. For this purpose, PTCL is to form a ‘Content Delivery Network’ allowing Dailymotion videos to be hosted in servers located within Pakistan. Considering the fact that the world’s most popular video sharing platform, Youtube has been blocked in the country since September 2013, this deal is completely against net neutrality principals – as it provides higher speed for dailymotion, facilitating it over other video sharing platforms like Vimeo and the banned Youtube.

The practice of telecommunication service providers offering differentiated data plans, favoring one or two platforms are also getting increasingly common. In 2012, Ufone in collaboration with Twitter launched “Twitter browsing without any data charges” proudly proclaiming that this service will “help create an entirely new wave of social networking in Pakistan” [16]. Ufone has been offering different bundles since 2012, including a WhatsApp bundle [17], and other bundles providing Facebook and Twitter at preferential rates [18]. Ufone also offers a “FastChat” service through its social corner [19].

Currently, the five major telecom providers Warid, Telenor, Zong, Ufone and Mobilink are all offering at least one package [20] that offers preferential access to different social networking and communication apps. Warid, a telecomm provider has multiple differentiated plans [21], including an Unlimited Facebook & WhatsApp! [22] This bundle is being offered absolutely free till 31sth March 2015 [23].

 

  1. Government Policy Net Neutrality

In October 2014, the Ministry of Information Technology shared a draft Telecommunications Policy [24] for stakeholder consultation. In this the issue of “Net Neutrality” was raised for the first time. The policy “attempts to reach a compromise between providing operators with commercial options and preventing anti-competitive practices.” [25]

Section 6.5 of the draft policy shared on MoIT website focuses on the issue of net neutrality. The following provisions have been included in this draft;

6.5.1 With respect to net neutrality and the provision of services aimed at over the top service providers, Government is of the view that (1) ISPs are compensated for any traffic consumed by their customers, and (2) they may implement tiered retail service tariffing with limits on traffic volumes delivered, thereby limiting their liability to carry traffic. Therefore, the Internet access service provided by an ISP or a network operator shall provide access to all services without discrimination through the technical characteristics of the service. To be specific:

  1. a) Throttling and traffic shaping on access components must not be undertaken to discriminate between the access provider’s own services, or services that the access provider favors, and other services. Access here means the service between the final distribution node and the device providing the customer’s connection to the network, beyond which the customer has control.
  1. b) The ISP or network operator may use traffic throttling and shaping to avoid network congestion and to implement fair use clauses in its contract with an individual customer, provided that the contract itself does not discriminate between the access provider’s own services, or services that the access provider favors, and other services, and provides protection to the consumer against unwarranted action.
  1. c) Backhaul, transit services and gateways between operator networks may not discriminate between the access provider’s own services, or services that the access provider favors, and other services.
  1. d) A backhaul or transit service provider may offer higher quality services and services designed to deliver particular types of content (e.g. games or streamed video). If it does provide such services, it must not require a service provider to use a relevant delivery service unless its own equivalent end user services use the same delivery service exclusively. In all cases, where an alternative network solution is offered, the terms of service and quality of service provided under those terms shall be equivalent and shall not discriminate between service provider customers [26].

Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan response [27] to the draft by lists a few concerns regarding the hurdles towards a ‘level playing field’ among various other concerns, but doesn’t touch directly upon the net neutrality provisions in the draft.

As this document is being drafted on 17 April 2015, the website of Ministry of Information Technology includes the above cited sections as a ‘draft policy’ which means that is hasn’t been enacted as yet.

 

  1. Conclusion

It can be concluded that despite the prevalence of net neutrality violations, any action has not been taken due to;

  1. The lack of legal framework that recognises and defines principles of net neutrality in Pakistan
  2. The lack of civil society and consumer groups working towards creating awareness on these principles.

There has very limited debate on digital forums, mostly among civil society organisations that focus primarily on digital rights. Unfortunately, the number of organisations focused on this area can be counted on one hand. The debate has not been mainstreamed to other rights organisations and has thus not generated the critical mass that can push towards policy changes that ensures that the telecom service providers, corporates and other institutions abide by Net Neutrality principles.

 

References:

[1] Govt to make cyber laws compatible with NAP – http://nation.com.pk/islamabad/05-Feb-2015/govt-to-make-cyber-laws-compatible-with-nap

[2] Ministry of Information Technology, Government of Pakistan – http://www.moitt.gov.pk/

[3] Ministry of Interior and Narcotics Control – http://www.interior.gov.pk/

[4] Ministry of Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage, Government of Pakistan – http://infopak.gov.pk/

[5] Ministry of Information Technology, Mission –

[6] Pakistan Telecommunication Authority – http://www.pta.gov.pk/

[7] History of PTA – http://www.pta.gov.pk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=358&Itemid=320

[8] PTA Vision – http://www.pta.gov.pk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=240&Itemid=102

[9] PTA granted powers for content management on internet – http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-7-308076-PTA-granted-powers-for-content-management-on-internet

[10] The IMCEW Challenge – Updates by Bolo Bhi – http://bolobhi.org/resources/timelines/imcew-challenge-updates-bolo-bhi/

[11] National Response Centre for Cyber Crime – http://www.nr3c.gov.pk/

[12] Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan – http://www.ispak.pk/

[13] Telecom Indicators, PTA – http://www.pta.gov.pk/index.php?Itemid=599

[14] PTCL and Daily Motion Join Hands – http://www.ptcl.com.pk/Home/PressReleaseDetail/?ItemId=419&linkId=130

[15] Fast video Streaming in Pakistan due to the agreement between PTCL & Dailymotion – http://talkontech.net/tag/ptcl/

[16] Ufone customers can browse Twitter free of cost – http://www.ufone.com/press-center/press-realeases/pr/?id=154

[17] Ufone Brings WhatsApp Bucket to Use Unlimited Mobile Internet – http://www.reader.pk/2012/12/26/ufone-whatsapp-bucket.html

[18] Ufone Socialife Offer: Use Unlimited Facebook and Twitter – http://propakistani.pk/2012/09/13/ufone-socialife-offer-use-unlimited-facebook-and-twitter/

[19] Ufone Value Added Services – http://www.ufone.com/customer-service/Value-Added-Services/#list

[20] Free Facebook, Twitter & WhatsApp by Telcos in Pakistan – http://www.moremag.pk/2014/12/29/free-facebook-twitter-whatsapp-in-pakistan/

[21] Warid prepaid mobile internet – http://www.waridtel.com/prepaid/mobile-internet

[22] Warid Offers Free Bundle for Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp – http://propakistani.pk/2014/09/16/warid-offers-free-bundle-for-facebook-twitter-and-whatsapp/

[23] Warid, Unlimited Facebook & WhatsApp – http://www.waridtel.com/prepaid/mobile-internet/unlimited-facebook-whatsapp

[24] Consultations om draft telecom policy 2014 – http://www.moitt.gov.pk/gop/index.php?q=aHR0cDovLzE5Mi4xNjguNzAuMTM2L21vaXQvZnJtRGV0YWlscy5hc3B4P2lkPTU3NyZhbXA7b3B0PW5ld3NldmVudHM%3D

[25] MoITT unveils draft Telecom Policy; includes provisions for net neutrality, spectrum sharing and OTT – https://www.telegeography.com/products/commsupdate/articles/2014/10/10/moitt-unveils-draft-telecom-policy-includes-provisions-for-net-neutrality-spectrum-sharing-and-ott/

[26] Ministry of Information Technology Telecommunications Policy: Consultation Draft – http://moit.gov.pk/gop/index.php?q=aHR0cDovLzE5Mi4xNjguNzAuMTM2L21vaXQvdXNlcmZpbGVzMS9maWxlL1RlbGVjb20lMjBQb2xpY3klMjAtJTIwU3Rha2Vob2xkZXJzJTIwQ29uc3VsdGF0aW9uJTIwMjAxNDEwMDEucGRm

[27] ISPAK response to draft telecom policy 2014 – http://www.ispak.pk/Downloads/Telecommunication%20Policy%20-%20Consultant’s%20Draft.pdf

Asad Baig

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