ISLAMABAD: Advocating the right to freedom of speech through digital mediums, Bolo Bhi – a not-for-profit geared towards advocacy, policy and research in the areas of gender rights, government transparency, Internet access, digital security and privacy – has called on the government of Pakistan, and especially institutions responsible for governance of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), to immediately lift the ban on Internet in FATA and allow Internet access to its citizens as they are constitutionally entitled to.
Internet services have been suspended in Fata since June 12, 2016 following a dispute at the Torkham border between Afghan and Pakistani forces. Over a year later, the Internet ban is still in effect, disrupting communications throughout the area and affecting over 5 million citizens within the seven agencies of Fata.
According to Bolo Bhi’s independent findings online, most areas in North and South Waziristan Agencies currently lack broadband connectivity, while Khyber, Bajaur, and Kurram Agencies have broadband connections limited to larger towns.
The bigger problem is that mobile Internet services are unavailable to users in Fata.
Mobile Internet connectivity holds major potential for access to information for citizens. With an estimated 67% mobile phone connection penetration in Pakistan, the number of mobile Internet users is expected to grow exponentially from the current level of 43 million users today, according to Pakistan Telecommunication Authority figures.
aIt goes without saying that in the 21st century, the Internet is essential for political, social, and economic interaction as well as the sharing of information. The Internet shutdown has gravely hindered these aspects of quotidian life, from communication between family members across the globe to the circulation of news.