Punjab halts free Wi-Fi service at public places

Published January 23, 2019
Punjab Information Technology Board owes Rs150m to PTCL. — File
Punjab Information Technology Board owes Rs150m to PTCL. — File

LAHORE: The Punjab government on Tuesday discontinued free Wi-Fi services being provided to the citizens at public places in 20 cities of the province citing lack of funds.

A senior official in Punjab Information Technology Board (PITB) told Dawn that the board in association with Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited had started the free WiFi project two years ago and it was [now] closed for not paying Rs150 million to the PTCL.

He said the [current] government had not allocated funds for the project in the budget and termed it a burden on the exchequer.

The purpose of public Wi-Fi hotspots in the province was to bridge the digital divide by providing free, easy and reliable Internet access in major public places. The PITB had set up 250 free Wi-Fi hotspots in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Multan, Bahawalpur and Murree districts. The Wi-Fi hotspots were set up at educational and government buildings, public parks, markets, hospitals, railway stations, airports and bus stations.

Trained staff was available at the call center 24/7 in order to provide technical support as well as complaint handling and resolution. The highest use of these free hotspots was recorded at hospitals, followed by universities and colleges. The facility has also enabled on-field government officials from various departments to utilise centrally-maintained online services in a relatively seamless manner.

The users were authenticated by their ID and mobile numbers, after which they received a code via SMS to connect to the internet. With the hotspots gaining popularity among the citizens, data hogging was avoided by making the internet subscription time-barred.

Video streaming and downloading were banned in order to maintain a positive usage of these facilities whereas time and location logs were maintained for security purposes. Each hotspot has a screen which displayed a total number of users connected, bandwidth and usage statistics.

Sources told Dawn that the closure of the service would also leave an impact on other telecommunication companies and they would close its call centres in future.

According to PITB usage statistics of Punjab Wi-Fi, 1,400,000 people had subscribed to the free service.

A student of Government College University (GCU), Lahore, said the [Wi-Fi] service was helping them meet their assignment deadlines because they did not have a working internet connection in their department.Board Chairman Habibur Rehman Gilani said he had given verbal orders to analyse [PITB’s] cost benefit and discontinue the service due to heavy cost. “We will analyse cost benefit and also continue service in educational institutions and hospitals,” he said.

The chairman said the telecom companies were providing internet service at cheap rates and the project was becoming a burden on the government.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2019

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