The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority’s (PTA) fanatical quest to ban anything deemed ‘immoral’ or against national security on the Internet has achieved the expected – Pakistan is one of the top-ten worst countries for Internet freedom in the world for a second year running.

Banning ‘objectionable’ websites is not the only problem, the recently passed Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act (2016) has not helped either. Its loosely worded definitions have only given room for more free-handed screening of the Internet by the government.

The complete lack of Internet freedom in a country with over 34 million users is bizarre. The Telecom Policy 2015 that granted PTA the power to block content is only partially to blame for Pakistan sharing the lower ranks with countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Cuba and Vietnam. The lack of wired connections beyond major urban areas, restrictions of connectivity due to frequent hangups at Pakistan’s largest internet exchange point (Pakistan Internet Exchange) and PTA’s bureaucratic administration and policy of keeping hefty fees for new internet connection companies have all led to limitations on the growth of the Internet in the country.

It must also be remembered that 34 million is only a percentage of the 180 million estimated total population of the country. Access to Internet could dramatically increase if the country focuses on increasing the user base by extending services to other parts of the country as well.

Pakistan’s slow ascendance into the modern world is further witnessed by the much-delayed move to finally issue three Direct-to-Home (DTH) broadcast licences to foreign operators in consortium with local companies. 25 million electronic media users, out of which 3 to 5 million are using Indian DTH illegally, means that a market is already there, waiting for technology that should have been introduced long ago. However, the fact that these licenses are being issued is positive in itself, but the government should be wary of not falling into the same trap it did when it looked to increase the number of Internet users in the country – taking these services to areas beyond the four or five major cities is essential. The direct relationship between the consumption of electronic media or using the Internet and education cannot be ignored – if done properly, legal versions of DTH broadcasting services disseminated to the general public will serve the people greatly.