Image Courtesy: Wikimedia
Image Courtesy: Wikimedia

Originally published in Urdu on PakVoices Gwadar website

Translated by Salman Latif

If you are an internet user living in Makran, rest assured that you will have internet access for a maximum of 15 to 20 days per month. And yet you will be charged the full monthly bill by the state-owned Pakistan Telecommunications Company Limited (PTCL) which is the only company providing broadband internet in the Makran region.

PTCL’s broadband services have a very good reputation in other parts of Pakistan such as Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad, as well as many smaller cities. However, despite being the only broadband service in Makran, PTCL’s service is woefully disruptive and slow. You get to have internet access for no more than 15 to 20 days, and even on days when you have internet connectivity, the speed is such that it may either take hours to download a small file or you may straightaway fail at downloading it due to speed issues.

To top it, the PTCL office in Gwadar is usually sealed and locked, with no official personnel around to register customer complaints. In the rare moments when the office is open and you get to meet a PTCL official, the response is always to go seek help at PTCL’s offices in Turbat or Quetta. When a customer does venture to call at PTCL helpline to lodge a complaint, it bears no fruit either.

A view of PTCL Gwadar office, shuttered during working hours
A view of PTCL Gwadar office, shuttered during working hours

The federal government has recently slapped a 14% tax on internet services. Responding to this hike in internet prices, a student in Gwadar Saeed Baloch had this to say,

“Had government provided quality internet services in the Makran region, people may have accepted this hike in prices. But when the government has utterly failed to provide us with a reliable internet, why are we asked to pay extra price for something that isn’t even available to us?”

In this cat-and-mouse game of finding internet, the students suffer the most. Today everything from educational scholarships to employment opportunities and entry test forms are made available online. Even Pakistan’s premier testing agency National Testing Service (NTS) uploads all its registration forms and results on its official website.

So when Makran students either get late due to no internet or simply fail to apply for certain jobs and educational opportunities because of internet downtime, they essentially miss out on many such opportunities where they could have succeeded.

Disappointed by PTCL’s performance, many users have turned to private telecom companies such as Mobilink, Warid, Ufone, Telenor and Zong. These companies offer mobile internet and although they have already launched high-speed 3G and 4G networks in other parts of Pakistan, Makran remains on their ignore list. The residents of Makran have access to a meager-paced mobile internet which is no better than PTCL in speed.

‘But at least it’s reliable and available all the time’ says Noor Baloch of Noor Communication Center in Gwadar. Baloch says that ever since government imposed the new tax on internet services, people have been shifting to mobile internet, especially the youth. He says, ‘It may be awfully slow but at least it’s there for sure.’

Mobile companies in Pakistan
Mobile companies in Pakistan

Others, such as journalists, have equally to bemoan the lack of quality internet. It has become a curious feature of newspapers in Gwadar to publish news a day or two late simply because they are delayed in receiving the relevant material due to internet woes.

Even PakVoices, the citizen journalism initiative being implemented in certain regions of Makran, has to suffer lags in reporting because some days, the internet just won’t be there. And sometimes, the total absence of broadband internet can protract into multiple days and even weeks. The inevitable consequence is that even the news of utmost importance get delayed.

Banks also take a hit from such connectivity issues. Although banks claim to have an independent internet system of their own, residents of Gwadar are always complaining about experiencing significant delays in getting online money transfers.

There’s a simple enough solution to all this: all PTCL needs to do is establish a decent infrastructure in the region, which it absolutely should, given the fact that it is charging its users in Makran the full amount on their bills. PTCL is partially state-owned, so it has a duty to offer quality services to all its users, whether they be located in Lahore or Makran.

With Gwadar on the fast-lane to become Dubai, if governmental promises are to be believed, one would expect that the government would at least provide decent quality of basic necessities of life before making such tall claims. For now, such hopes remain unfulfilled in the noise of Express Ways and Deep Sea Ports. What people need more, the people of Gwadar and Makran, are simple enough things such as clean water, electricity and a reliable internet.