Residents across Karachi experienced a two-hour suspension of cable television and internet services on Monday evening after cable and internet operators announced a "token strike" against what they termed as the "high-handedness" of the K-Electric (KE).
The announcement of the protest against KE's alleged move to cut off cable and internet wires using its electricity poles was made at a joint press conference in Karachi of cable operators associations and internet service providers, led by Pakistan Cable Operators Association chairman Khalid Arain.
Arain announced that in order to protest KE's "oppressive measures", TV and broadband services would remain suspended in Karachi between 7pm and 9pm. He cautioned that if KE did not agree to their demands, the strike could be expanded to the entire country.
In a message sent to consumers, internet provider StormFiber said TV and internet would remain disabled in the city for two hours as per the Pakistan Telecommunication Access Provider Association's "protest against fiber damage by utility company".
Giving details of the conflict with KE, Arain said the power utility had held cable operators responsible for the deaths caused during last year's rains due to electrocution. Cable and internet providers had denied this charge because the fiber optic cables used by them do not carry any current, he added.
On the basis of its allegations, the KE "illegally" started cutting off cable operators' wires without any warning, Arain claimed.
He said cable operators were using electric poles to carry wires into people's houses across the country, but only Karachi's power utility had raised a complaint in this regard.
According to Arain, the Karachi commissioner at a meeting 10 months ago had directed KE to not cut the TV and internet cables until a "common corridor" is established, and the cable operators too had sought "appropriate" time to shift their infrastructure underground, but KE had proceeded to disconnect their wires anyway.
He said with the start of this year's monsoon rains, KE started to force the cable operators to "own" the deaths caused due to electrocution, but alleged that the actual problem was with the power utility's infrastructure because its poles were not properly earthed.
"TV and internet are a source of information and entertainment for Karachi's residents, especially during lockdowns, but that too is shut down in various areas due to KE's high-handedness," Arain said.
He added that the cable operators did not want a clash with KE, but wanted the company to give them time and agree on certain standard operating procedures (SOPs) until the cables are shifted underground.
The cable operators urged the Pakistan Electronic Media Authority Regulatory Authority (Pemra), National Electric Power Regulatory Authority (Nepra) and leaders of the ruling PTI to intervene in the matter and stop KE from disconnecting their wires.
'No progress on removal of cables'
Arain during the press conference claimed that cable operators had started work to shift the cables underground on some land owned by the Sindh government, however, he said they were "facing problems" in areas where the land is owned by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC). He urged the Karachi mayor to allow the cable operators to carry out their work being the "father of the city".
Last week, the Karachi commissioner had informed the Sindh High Court that his office had directed the Pakistan Cable Operators Association and Pakistan Telecommunication Access Providers Association in October to undertake the work of removing cables and wires hanging indiscriminately across the city and shift them underground.
He said for this purpose, the associations were given one month for the 'red zone' areas and three months for the rest of the city, but no progress had been made so far.
His comments had come on a petition filed by KE seeking timely removal of such cables. The power utility had submitted that it was decided in a meeting of stakeholders in March that all cables would be marked and bundled throughout the city by June 30 as a temporary solution till the total shifting commences for the underground project.
However, a report submitted in the SHC on Wednesday by the commissioner's office had revealed that no progress had been made so far as the cable associations avoided initiating the project and were afraid of investing huge amounts on the project and expressed the apprehension that the KMC or the mayor "may confiscate or destroy the structures at any stage of the project".