Swathes of Pakistan’s mobile users were left without service for more than 40 hours earlier this week as the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) ordered operators to close down networks on 24 and 25 November on the direction of the Interior Ministry, reports Pro Pakistani. The Ministry claimed that the enforced blackout was prompted by security threats. More than 80 million mobile customers, as well as three million wireless in the local loop (WiLL) users across 50 cities were blocked from using their devices during the period, causing massive loss of revenues to telecoms operators. Local reports claim that providers were left short of PKR1.5 billion (USD15.5 million) by the closure, whilst the government lost a potential PKR500 million in taxes.
The blackouts are the most recent in a wave of increasing interference in the sector by the government and security agencies. As previously reported by CommsUpdate, the government has recently banned Mobile Number Portability (MNP), shut down traditional sales channels for pre-paid SIMs and has stopped telcos offering tariffs with cheaper off-peak calls. However, the disruptions and consequent waning confidence in the sector are likely to deter fresh investors from participating in the upcoming 3G auction, which the government hopes will inject some USD900 million into state coffers.
The Interior Ministry has ordered networks shut down in specific cities several times this year, typically during religious festivals and prompted by threats of terrorism. The Interior Minister Rehman Malik claims that 90% of bombs in Pakistan are detonated by mobile phones, though attacks have continued despite the service shut downs. Indeed, a spokesperson from the Pakistani Taliban claimed in a telephone interview with local media that the group did not use mobile phones as detonators, and would continue its activities throughout the blockade on services.