KARACHI: Residents of five major cities of Sindh, including metropolis Karachi, reportedly experienced a three-hour suspension of cable television service as operators continued their protest against K-Electric for the second day on Tuesday.

The announcement of the protest against KE’s alleged move to cut off cable and internet wires using its electricity poles was made on Monday at a joint press conference of the cable operators associations and internet service providers, led by Pakistan Cable Operators Association chairman Khalid Arain. He had announced that to protest KE’s “oppressive measures”, TV and broadband services would remain suspended in Karachi between 7pm and 9pm on Monday.

On Tuesday, the outage expanded to five cities of Sindh — Karachi, Hyderabad, Nawabshah, Sukkur and Larkana — as a meeting chaired by Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Ali Shalwani failed to end the deadlock between the operators and KE.

As a result, the cable operators extended the duration of their strike from two hours on Monday to three hours (7pm to 10pm) on Tuesday.

Internet disruption expected during daytime today

“Cable operators will go on strike during peak hours today (Tuesday) while internet providers will suspend services during the day on Wednesday for maximum impact,” Mr Arian told Dawn after his meeting with the Karachi commissioner on Tuesday.

Although major operators did not participate in the strike on Tuesday, Mr Arian said internet providers were considering an outage during daytime when the corporate sector would be affected and hence the outage would cast more impact.

“The meeting with the commissioner failed because representatives of K-Electric did not show up. They are not willing to discuss the problem with us but instead have accused cable operators of ‘blackmailing’ and threatened to cut off cables,” Mr Arian said.

According to Mr Arian, the commissioner has called another meeting on Wednesday (today) and also asked the deputy commissioner of South to appoint a representative to oversee the matter. The commissioner, he added, had directed the relevant authorities to facilitate cable operators in moving their wires underground.

“Karachi’s area requires 1,200km-long cable. We have already moved 30km cable underground in DHA. We are only asking K-Electric to give us reasonable time to streamline the aerial network and shift cables underground,” he told Dawn.

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 until the cables were shifted underground.

However, he warned, if the demands were not met, the protest would extend to Punjab and Khyber Paktunkhwa in the coming days.

KE responds to ‘pressure tactics’

Meanwhile, K-Electric has urged the cable operators to honour commitments made to the Karachi commissioner and the local authorities to remove unsafe cable wires from the company’s infrastructure.

The company said the cable associations had made commitment to the local authorities and the commissioner of Karachi to begin removing their wires from KE poles and placing them underground by July 15.

The statement said the operators were unable to meet this commitment and had chosen to observe strike and cause inconvenience to the residents of Karachi.

The KE spokesperson said: “The cable operators’ association needs to place their cables underground as committed. They must not put money before safety. KE has extended assistance to help them do this.

“These cables have led to fatalities and are a major safety hazard. These illegal cables and wires cause short-circuiting which also lead to fire and are a major source of injuries and deaths, particularly during rains.”

The KE representative said the company would not bow down to the “blackmail and pressure tactics” of the cable operators.

The first phase of this project was identified in 50 locations and was supposed to be completed by July 20, he added. Despite repetitive appeals made to them by KE, the work had not commenced properly, he regretted.

“KE is determined to continue its action against illegal connections and illegal cable TV and internet wires in the interest of the safety of the people of Karachi and asks citizens to support them in removing this menace of unsafe and unsightly mess,” the spokesperson said.

Complaints lodged with PTA

Despite the ongoing conflict and reports of internet outages, the Pakistan Telecommun­ication Autho­rity (PTA) has not commented on the matter.

Customers, who are increasingly reliant on internet while working from home as a precautionary measure against Covid-19, have urged the PTA to take action over the inconvenience caused by the ongoing protest.

“My question to the ISPs is how does it hurt the utility company when you turn off our connectivity. Why are the ones to suffer in both cases - when they turn off the power & when you turn off our connectivity?” P@SHA president Jehan Ara asked on Twitter.

“Why should the customers pay for the hours they don’t deliberately get service from cable and internet providers as they go on strike. This is brute force and no consideration for customers,” posted another user.

The Pakistan Cable Operators Association chairman said the customers would also suffer if KE cut off cables. “We are already providing the cheapest packages. Customers will suffer for a longer period if this issue is not resolved,” he warned.

Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2020