Wednesday July 24, 2024

Restricting the net

By Editorial Board
August 07, 2023

Part of living and working in Pakistan is knowing that one can never take the uninterrupted delivery of essential services for granted. It is not a question of if the supply of power, water and internet might be suspended or disrupted but when. Access to the internet is particularly vulnerable to government-imposed restrictions during times of political turbulence and instability or if there is the threat of large-scale violence and public disorder. Given that this year has seen more political conflict and public disorder than usual, it is not too surprising that Pakistan has been ranked third globally in terms of the imposition of internet restrictions in the first half of 2023. According to a report by Surfshark, a virtual private network (VPN) company, Pakistan is ranked behind only Iran and India in terms of imposed internet restrictions during the first half of this year. These restrictions were, reportedly, imposed following PTI chief Imran Khan’s arrest in May. However, internet disruptions in Pakistan are not just limited to moments of political instability – and the reliability of internet service is low in general. According to the Inclusive Internet Index 2022, Pakistan ranks last in Asia and 79th globally in terms of key indicators including availability, affordability, relevance and readiness. An estimated 15 per cent of the country reportedly lacks access to the internet altogether while even those with access suffer from slow speeds and inconsistent services.

For a country to reach its full potential in the 21st century, its businesses and people must have access to reliable and high-quality internet connections. In this day and age, everything from banking to healthcare and education is being digitized and Pakistan risks being left behind if the level of its internet services remains the same. Internet-based businesses and tech startups are playing an increasingly crucial role in bringing growth and investment to our economy. If the services that they offer are persistently under threat of disruption and forced to rely on slow and inconsistent connections, it will curtail their growth and discourage the development of new firms, limiting our economic prospects. There is also the fact that millions of people have come to rely on online services to do everything from paying their bills to getting to work and completing their education.

Improving our internet services is a prerequisite for progress and this will require more investment in the internet infrastructure. As concerns political disturbances and other threats to public order and safety, cracking down on internet access only exacerbates the suffering of the public and the damage to the country by paralyzing businesses and people. The government should come up with a more targeted and fine-tuned means of stopping those seeking to damage public property or engage in violence, one that does not bring life to a standstill for the people and businesses working to make this country a better place to live.