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Row erupts over losses from Internet crisis

July 12, 2005

ISLAMABAD, July 11: A row has erupted between the Pakistan Telecommunication Company Ltd and the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Long Distance and International (LDIs) call centres over payment of compensation for damage suffered during an 11-day disruption in the Internet link earlier this month. A sum of $43 million is being demanded by ISPs and LDIs but PTCL officials insist it is not bound to pay even a penny to any party.

Representatives of the Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAP), Call Centre Association of Pakistan (CCAP) and Telecom Operators Association of Pakistan (TOA) on Monday demanded at a press conference that Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz and President Pervez Musharraf should step in and make the PTCL compensate them for the $43 million loss they suffered during 10 days and eight hours of disruption at the undersea South East Asia-Middle East-Western Europe-3 (SEA-ME-WE-3) fibre-optic cable.

To compensate for the losses, they said the PTCL should not charge them for bandwidth services for the next four months.

However, PTCL President Junaid I. Khan told a press conference a couple of days back that the PTCL would pay LDIs and ISPs only according to the agreement the company had signed with them. According to the agreement, no one could claim any compensation from PTCL in case any fault appeared in the SEA-ME-WE-3 at any time and for any period.

That’s why the ISPAP, ICAP and TOA had been reluctant to submit any written claim for compensation with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA).

Speaking at the press conference, CCAP general secretary Shaikh Azeem and its president Farrukh Aslam said that the outage at Pakistan’s sole submarine fibre-optic cable had caused colossal damage to LDIs, ISPs and IT and telecom industry and the government ought to compensate them.

They said they had signed the agreement with PTCL because at that time the company exercised monopoly and they had no other option. They said that in 2001 Information Technology and Telecom Minister Prof Dr Attaur Rehman had decided that PTCL would keep 50 per cent satellite back-up of its Internet backbone capacity on fibre-optic cable.

However, the PTCL did not implement the directives and neglected to increase the satellite bandwidth even though the capacity on submarine fibre-optic cable had grown manifold, they said.

They said 15 LDIs were operating in Pakistan other than PTCL and each operator was bringing on an average 10 million minutes of international incoming traffic per month. They said the 15 LDIS suffered losses totalling up to $7.35 million.

Similarly, they said, the ISPs suffered $7 million and the IT industry $3.6 million.

They said they had little hope that the PTA would provide them justice because the authority had remained silent during the Internet crisis in the country, despite the fact that it had tarnished the country’s image abroad and belied the government’s claims that it was creating favourable infrastructure for foreign investment.

They said it was impossible for PTCL to finalise any arrangements with India for an alternative cable and it could take more time to see Pakistan as a member of the consortium of SEA-ME-WE-4. They said PTCL spent $10 million on satellite back-up every year, but to have an alternative fibre-optic cable it needed to invest only $20 million. They said satellite back-up could never be a substitute for the fibre-optic cable.