The anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 1865 is celebrated on May 17 every year as the World Telecommunication and Information Society Day (WTISD). This year’s theme “Connect 2030: ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” highlights Information Communications Technology (ICT) advances for the transition to smart and sustainable development, focusing on specific ICT-enabled solutions. The overarching goal of this year’s WTISD theme is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of ICTs can bring to economies especially to the vulnerable segments of the society. In the time of the Coronavirus global health crisis, ICTs are vital to keeping the economy going and keeping society together. The COVID-19 pandemic is also testing the telecom sector in many ways, the changes and disruption wrought by the pandemic have been jarring and has thrown life in a disarray.
PTA Stepping Up to the COVID-19 Challenge
For the past few months, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) highest priority has been to support national efforts to counter the immediate challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. PTA has demonstrated its commitment by effectively leveraging digital technologies for public awareness through Trace, Track and Quarantine (TTQ), facilitating funds disbursement to needy through Ehsas program, and via public donations in Prime Minister’s COVID-19 Relief Fund through SMSs.
To raise awareness about Corona Virus, PTA directed Cellular Mobile Operators (CMOs) to send awareness messages to subscribers across Pakistan. 1028.5 million Corona Virus awareness messages have so far been sent since 19th March 2020 in Urdu, English and regional languages to mobile users across Pakistan. More than 0.58 million cautionary messages have so far been sent to travelers and persons suspected of coming into contact with Corona Virus since 19th March 2020. Furthermore, Corona Awareness Ring Back Tones (RBTs) have been activated on 79.4% (131.7 million) of total subscribers’ mobile devices.
Internet access is proving to be one of the most valuable non-medical commodities right now. It is through the Internet and mobile that Pakistan continues to stay connected. Many are able to work from home and, while schools may be closed, but students are still learning with the help of online tools and instruction. PTA is supporting e-education and Distance Learning programs in support of Federal Ministry of Education and Higher Education Commission (HEC). In this regard, PTA is working jointly with HEC to facilitate and promote online education. Meetings are also being held between PTA, HEC and mobile operators for launch of Taleemi Bundle to facilitate students for distance learning and online classes. To raise awareness regarding TeleSchool – Pakistan’s first education channel for students (a joint project of Pakistan Television Ltd and the Ministry of Education), 93.15 million SMS messages have been sent.
Increased traffic demand has led the industry to adopt measures to keep services available to people and enable them to stay connected. PTA successfully mobilized the telecom sector to carry out activities required to maintain performance and services. Operators have increased data allowances and are offering discounted bundles and offers. These packages / offers (by giving additional data and on-net voice minutes) have been launched to facilitate people to stay and work from home (details are available at operators’ and PTA’s website).
Global Service Providers and streaming platforms are also taking essential steps to leave more broadband for essential services. For which, Google and Netflix informed PTA about how they are easing out stress on national telecommunications networks in the wake of COVID-19 Pandemic.
Google has introduced new features and resources to provide locally relevant information to Pakistani users. These include expansion of COVID-19 SOS Alerts and Knowledge Panels on Google Search, as well as YouTube Information Panels. These resources feature link to National Institute of Health (NIH) to provide locally relevant information to Pakistani citizens. Google also launched Bolo a speech-based reading app that uses machine learning to help children read aloud confidently, using their own voice. The app has been made available in Urdu.
In order to reduce its traffic on telecommunication networks in Pakistan, Netflix developed ways to reduce its traffic by 25% while also maintaining quality of service.
To facilitate operations of educational institutions, and call centers etc., 120 IPs have been whitelisted since 19th March 2020. PTA has also allocated 14 different short codes and 6 UAN (Toll Free) numbers to Government entities working on controlling the pandemic.
To increase public awareness about ‘Prime Minister’s COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fun 2020’, 142.08 million SMS messages have been sent to subscribers urging them to donate to this noble cause. Mobile subscribers can donate Rs 20/SMS by sending a text message on code 6677. Rs 13 million has so far been contributed to the Relief Fund through SMS campaign. PTA has also contributed to the Prime Minister’s COVID-19 Relief Fund. Chairman, Members of the Authority and officers have donated their two days salary while lower grade employees have contributed one day salary towards the Fund.
On World Telecommunication & Information Society Day, the Chairman of Pakistan Telecommunication Authority, Major General (R) Amir Azeem Bajwa stated that:
World Telecommunication & Information Society (WTIS) Day is being celebrated on May 17 and theme for this year – “Connect 2030: ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)” holds special significance for the world and Pakistan.
Regarding this year’s World Telecom Day theme, I feel happy to mention that PTA is doing its utmost efforts alongside other stakeholders in supporting SDGs by bridging the digital divide and bringing economic & social benefits of the mobile and internet to rural communities. PTA is helping the country to pursue its goal of uplifting vulnerable segments of the society through modern day Information & Communication Technologies (ICTs). Pakistan’s telecom sector has become a role model for other sectors in reshaping the economic destiny of the people. The sector will continue to play an important role in the current decade towards attainment of SDGs.
The significance of ICT networks has never been as pronounced and vital to our safety, well-being and for stimulating economic growth as during the COVID-19 crisis. Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has been successfully playing its role supplementing Government of Pakistan’s efforts by effectively leveraging digital technologies for public awareness, checking the spread of Covid-19 through Trace, Track and Quarantine (TTQ), facilitating funds disbursement to needy through Ehsas Program, and arranging public donations in Prime Minister’s COVID-19 Relief Fund through SMSs.
PTA is committed to continue its efforts to maintain support for consumers & businesses, and to ensure that networks remain resilient and quality telecommunication services are available to all, especially in these times. We are fully committed to make the best use of ICTs for a sustainable future and to create a stronger, united and connected Pakistan and global community.
PTA’s work to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19 will continue full speed ahead. In the long run, PTA will continue to make efforts to achieve targets set under the SDGs as it has done previously through the use of enabling ICTs for empowerment of marginalized segments of society and women, in particular; growth & development of reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, and supporting economic development & human well-being with a focus on affordable access. By optimizing the power of ICT, gathering, disseminating and analyzing information, it can accelerate action to help vulnerable groups and create a better future for the people of Pakistan.