Pakistan’s telecom industry has warned that internet and mobile services could be shut down as “prolonged power outages” and high fuel costs have made it almost impossible to cope with a deepening economic crisis.
In a letter to the federal Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the country’s leading telecom operators said they are facing a “massive challenge” to maintain the services due to “unplanned and prolonged load-shedding nationwide”.
“Despite having backup power available in the form of generators and batteries, cellular operators are finding it almost impossible to cope with the quantum of these power outages that are beyond our dimensioned backup capacity,” mobile operators Jazz, Telenor, PTCL and Ufone said in the letter.
The companies said that critical economic factors, including rising fuel prices and strict conditions on battery imports, are directly impeding their ability to provide services to the people.
It added that the political developments impacting the economic situation of the country have led to pressure on the country’s “already deteriorating health of the capital-intensive telecom sector”.
On Friday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said it was a “very very difficult challenge” for the government to control power outages as he criticized the previous Imran Khan government for not securing cheap gas.
“We have refrained from procuring expensive gas and the previous government missed the opportunity to purchase cheap gas,” the prime minister said at the meeting.
The National Information Technology Board (NITB), commissioned by the country’s IT ministry, said that people can face internet and mobile shutdowns.
“Telecom operators in Pakistan have warned about shutting down mobile and internet services due to long hours power outages nationwide, as the interruption is causing issues and hindrance in their operations,” it said.
The looming telecom crisis comes at a time Pakistan is reeling under a severe energy crisis that has led to prolonged power cuts, sky rocketing prices of fuel, and rising cost of living. The economy is badly hit and the currency has failed to record lows.
The country’s power generation is in deficit in the face of increased demand during hot summer months that saw a deadly heatwave.
In an apparent display of urgency to control the spiraling economic woes, the government has been cutting down expenses by way of slashing the petroleum allowance given to government officials, cutting working hours for public servants, and ordering shopping malls as well as factories to shut early .
Telecom operators underscored that the rising price of fuel has intensified the financial burden on the embattled industry as companies have been forced to use generators or backup batteries.
On Thursday, Pakistan increased fuel prices for the fourth time in a month by Pakistani rupee 15-18 (£0.061-£.073) per litre, taking the petrol and diesel prices to Rs 248 (£1) and Rs 276 (£1.12). ) respectively.
Mr Sharif on Monday warned that the country will continue with increasing load shedding in July as they were unable to obtain the required liquefied natural gas (LNG) supply.