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Main hindrance in IT revolution

Jul 31 - Aug 06, 2000

While the local telephone charges are being made free the world over, Pakistan Telecommunication Corporation Limited (PTCL) has increased the line rent by 38 per cent and call charges by 10 per cent despite resistance from its customers.

Last week PTCL has announced an increase in monthly line rent and local call charges which will be effective by August 1. Notification further announced reduction in the international call charges and NationWide Dialing (NWD) charges. But no reduction has been made to call duration which will remain 5 minutes. This increase by PTCL has been in accordance with the recent approval by PTA(Pakistan Telecommunication Authority). While request to reduce the call duration by PTCL was dismissed. By the increase local call charges will go up from Rs 2.10 to Rs 2.31 per 5 minutes, whereas line rent has been increased from Rs 204 to Rs 282, an increase of about 38 per cent per month.

PTA has also accepted to recalculate international call charges including the central excise duty(CED) to an average of Rs 60.34 per minute, a reduction of Rs 6.70 per minute, NWD (Nationwide Dialing) charges has also reduced to Rs 18 per minute.

Although PTCL have also strong reasons like inflation, exchange rates and funds needed for future investment. But it is also evident that PTCL has been earning millions of profit despite of under utilized capacity. The efficiency and performance of PTCL is also not up to the standard. Besides this, reduction in lending rate has also reduced the financial charges of the company. So objection does not only concern with price increase but PTCL and PTA do not have sound reason for public to believe.

At one hand tariffs are rising but quality of services by PTCL still touches the ground. Karachi's telephone directory is four years old and data it contains is six years old. While during the time many of the numbers have been changed from zero digit to seven digit. Enquiry 17 always full with oft-repeated statement to be engaged. On the other hand complaints regarding excessive bills are routine matter. In case of breakdown or any complaint subscriber can not make it registered at 18. Now only left resort, is approaching through unfair means by involving line man by offering huge amount or to make bad deal with PTCL officials to get quick remedy as corruption is at its peak.

PTA and other so called regulatory authorities are supposed to safe-guard the interests of their stakeholders i.e. shareholders, consumers and creditors. But in this case PTA seems safeguarding the interest of one shareholder—the GoP. PTA should not be only responsible for PTCL interests but the true mediator between the parties to split the difference. If PTA can not protect the interests of subscribers than what could be the justification for their presence.

Regulatory authorities are responsible to invite public hearings on the issues to protect the interests of all the stakeholders party but in this case it was said that PTCL put up its proposal on July 15 and hearing was made on the same day. So one can understand that a day is not enough to have hearing from all the interested parties and organizations. So it is clear that in this case PTA did not play its part to make fair representation of the consumers.

Government ambitiously promised for IT revolution in the country but Universal Access Number allotted to internet providers have been subject to multimetering has pushed up the telephone bills of home using computer. In this situation when internet is also subject of high price due to multimetering on the internet dial-up calls and high call charges what type of revolution can be expected in the country.

Past experiences reveal that despite paying high tariffs public was deprived of quality services. Now it is highly recommended that regulatory authorities must remember their role regarding subscribers' interests. If increase was inevitable than regulatory authorities should also make it possible that it must be coupled with additional services and facilities like free calls per month and CLI on simple application. So PTCL should also provide good services and relief to the consumers.

Finance Minister Shaukat Aziz during his post budget discussions strongly denied the possibility of mini budgets but the prevailing situation seems contrary to the claims. After an increase of 15 per cent in gas charges, 12.5 per cent in transport fares, KESC also hinted at the increase in charges and now approval of 10 per cent increase in local call charges and line rent would definitely make an addition to the problems of common man.

People from all walks of life have strongly disappointed from the decision and demanded immediate withdrawal. Throughout the country Citizens Associations, traders, households, salaried class have shown aggressive reactions on this decision and perceive it as an step further for burdening the public. Telephone charges throughout the world are reducing gradually but in Pakistan since 1997 when line rent was Rs 50 gradually risen upto Rs 282. Sky high prices making it impossible even to afford necessity like telephone.

Utilities should not be profit oriented but must be self sustained. But in Pakistan utilities are also subject of making money and price hike. Subscribers are paying for delayed new connections, poor quality and high tariff. So far Government has been blowing its own trumpet and the problems are still there. Now government should do something in real for the relaxation and benefit of countrymen.