The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the daily routine of the general public. The disease has forced millions to stay at home and the closure of numerous educational and working institutions. Unfortunately, some working places have been completely shut down, and others have urged their employees to ‘work from home.’ Simultaneously, the students have also been asked to take ‘online classes.’ Therefore, a good internet connection can be regarded as a linchpin to bore success in these new ways.
The State of the Internet in Gilgit Baltistan
However, things are, on the contrary, for many. The people residing in urban centers do enjoy fast internet connectivity and face no issue in working online. But people of remote areas in Pakistan are facing a hard time finding a good and reliable internet connection. One of these regions is Gilgit Baltistan, which is facing severe internet problems.
The people residing in urban centers enjoy fast internet connectivity and face no issue in working online. But people of remote areas in Pakistan are facing a hard time finding a good and reliable internet connection
Internet situation prevailing in Gilgit Baltistan (GB):
Gilgit Baltistan is present in the north of Pakistan, with a population of nearly 1.2 million people. So, it can’t be considered as a small village. It’s a vast territory with a large working and student population. Many of them are studying and working in major cities like Islamabad, Lahore, etc. The pandemic has forced them to stay at home and work online. However, since the lockdown, the public of GB faces internet problems, which include unreliable connections, very slow internet speeds, expensive rates, and total disability of the internet after short intervals.
This situation has affected many sectors, but the student community is at the top of the list. There are thousands of students who cannot take online classes because of the weak internet connection. Gilgit Baltistan is present in the north of Pakistan, with a population of nearly 1.2 million people. So, it can’t be considered as a small village.
Similarly, the same situation prevails in remote villages of Ghanche, Ghizer, etc. where students and the working community are unable to do any work because of poor internet connectivity. The future of these individuals, particularly the students, is at stake. The government must immediately respond to tackle this issue and ensure a permanent, reliable internet connection for the region of GB.
Protests were demonstrated as a ‘Backlash’:
The people of GB strived hard in a peaceful manner to deliver their complaints to the government and expected a response. But unfortunately, the government did nothing. Therefore, the sentiments of people were hurt, and they decided to organize a ‘sit-in’.
Many students studying in numerous educational institutions across the country held a protest outside the Hunza Press Club against the online classes and poor internet connectivity in their respective areas. The protesting students declared a boycott of online classes until the provision of reliable internet services in the region. The Karakoram Highway (KKH) was blocked during the sit-in. The protesters told that thousands of GB students had been urging for better Internet connectivity in the region for the last month to avail online classes, but no one listened to their grievances.
They further said that the HEC’s policy of launching online classes had been troublesome for the GB students as most parts of the region had no or inadequate Internet facility. According to the protestors, the internet service provided by the Special Communication Organization (SCO) was poor.
The protesters pointed out that the far-flung area of the region had no connectivity at all as the private telecom companies were not allowed to offer 4G service. They pointed out that far-flung areas of the region had no Internet connectivity at all as the private telecom companies were not allowed to offer 4G service.
Internet Service Provider of GB and its ‘Monopoly’:
In Gilgit-Baltistan, internet service is provided by the Special Communication Organisation (SCO). It is a public sector organization operating under the Ministry of IT and controlled by the Pak army. The SCO was initiated in 1976 to develop, operate, and maintain telecom services in the region of Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan. They did a great job by laying out the 2500-kilometer optic fiber cable network in the mountainous landscape of Gilgit-Baltistan, but now the things aren’t as were expected. The internet was introduced in GB in early 2000, and at that time, there were consumer-friendly packages from SCO. As a result, Comsats, the only other ISP, was shut down. Due to the exit of Comsats, the SCO remained the sole ISP, which monopolized the market of Gilgit-Baltistan. The lack of competition had some adverse results. And ‘quality’ became its first casualty. Since then, SCO has failed to provide reliable internet service in GB.
Optimism: If there was excellent Internet Service in GB?
An array of favorable things could have taken place if there was an excellent internet service in GB. In a contemporary situation, a reliable internet service would have allowed the students to take online classes at ease, and HEC would have been less criticized for its online policy. Consequently, the efficacy of the norm ‘Work from home’ would have been much higher.
Apart from that, as we all know, the region of GB is one of the most beautiful places on earth with one of the largest mountain ranges in the world. It has an excellent affinity for tourism. A good internet connection in enchanting far-flung areas like Skardu, Ghizer, etc., could have better portrayed the beautiful and scintillating image of Pakistan to the outside world and could have attracted thousands of tourists from across the globe. Even Pakistani citizens themselves are not aware of many heavenly places located in GB.
Therefore, a good internet connection could have helped improve the tourism industry of Pakistan and would have created several opportunities for freelancing, entertainment, and education for the people in those regions that the rest of the country is enjoying.
Recommendations for the Government:
According to my analysis, I have some suggestions to improve the state of the internet in GB. They are as follows:
• The government must provide incentives for private telecom operators like Nayatel, Fiberlink, etc., to initiate their services in GB as market competition will lead to better services.
• As the landscape is rough and mountainous and the transmission lines are decades old. So, the government must change these transmission lines using the National Fund. It can improve internet service in GB.
• Last but not least, as GB shares a border with a Chinese province, we all know that China is a tech-giant. Therefore, our government can negotiate with Chinese authorities and companies to regulate internet service
in GB as a private body