Last week’s internet shutdown caused significant losses to road runners, startups and businesses that depend on digital mediums to operate
ahid Abdul Haq, a road runner by profession, typically takes a day off once every ten days. He likes to spend it at home with his family. However, during the recent countrywide suspension of internet services, Haq was home and without work for three consecutive days.
As his job relies heavily on online orders and tracking, Haq says he began to feel restless and anxious: “I didn’t know when this would end. I wanted to get back [to work] and earn. I cannot afford to be out of work for long.”
Haq is one of the many food delivery boys who get work online through food apps. His average day’s earnings are Rs 2,000-3,000. He lost a significant chunk during the three connectivity-less days — i.e. May 9 to May 11.
He’s returned to work, but his income has declined. He attributes this to the “changing public habits.” “They don’t seem to be ordering food as they used to. The orders have shrunk, and so have our tips.”
According to Haq, Defence is the only area that didn’t experience an internet disruption or suspension.
The ride-hailing services operating in the city too had it rough without the internet. “Since no one was able to book a ride, no captain/ driver could make a penny,” says Afzal Naqvi who must pay a daily rent of Rs 2,000 for the 1,300cc car that he drives, even for the days when he gets no rides. All he saved on was the fuel, as he “was forced to keep the car in the garage.”
Nelson Nabeel, the owner of a call centre in Model Town, Lahore, is still reeling from the losses incurred as a consequence of lost connectivity. He says that if it weren’t for his clean track record, he would have lost the trust of his clients in the US and European countries.
Ride-hailing services operating in the city had it rough without the internet. “Since no one was able to book a ride, no captain/ driver could make a penny,” says Afzal Naqvi who must pay a daily Rs 2,000 rent for the 1,300cc car that he drives, even for the days when he gets no rides.
He says that the internet shutdown is the easiest recourse for the authorities when it comes to dealing with an emergency situation. No one seems to bother about the losses that it causes to businesses. “You are lucky if you only have slow [network] signals,” he remarks sarcastically.
Moin Zubair, who runs a YouTube channel dedicated to showbiz news, relates his frustration at not being able to upload his new video which his subscribers had been waiting for. It was an ordeal to be able to upload it. “My channel demands that I upload at least five videos in a week to keep me in the swim,” he says. “If you fail to deliver, your audience won’t forgive you. I lost a chunk of my subscribers and earnings per video.”
The impact of the internet suspension extends beyond individual businesses and jobs. Omar Shah, the CEO of COLABS, a co-working space in the city, compares internet to air. He says that shutting it down means businesses and economy cannot breathe.
He says the growth of the IT sector and how various startups are contributing to economic development. No prizes for guessing, the entire IT industry rests on the provision of reliable internet connectivity. For Bushra Latif, the CEO of Nani.pk, no internet means you are wiped off the world map.
The sentiment resonates with many other individuals and startups. Muhammad Sohail, the owner of Alliance Orbit Technologies, recounts how his company had to face financial losses. His clients were agitated because there were delays in supplies. “We were unable to carry out our regular duties which included correspondence with our clients and colleagues,” he says, adding that he and his team now have to work overtime to make up for the losses and regain the trust of their clients.
The need for uninterrupted internet connection for businesses, individuals and the economy is very real. Reliable internet access must be ensured, if the country is to prosper.
The writer is a media veteran interested in politics, consumer rights andentrepreneurship