ISLAMABAD: Internet disruptions were reported across the country on Wednesday amid speculations that the government had suspended the services because of protests organised by ousted prime minister Imran Khan.

However, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) denied it had taken any such decision and clarified that internet provider Transworld was facing slight degradation, which was being checked.

In an advisory issued on Wednesday, the PTA asked telecom companies to maintain services during the ongoing nationwide protests. The advisory was meant to ensure the provision of telecom services, the regulator said, and advised telecom companies to take precautionary measures.

The advisory said support staff of telecom companies, their customer support centres and retailers would be allowed to remain open amid protests.

Slow internet and non-availability of cellular services were reported from almost all parts of the country on Wednesday, with Lahore and Rawalpindi residents bearing the brunt amid clashes between PTI supporters and police.

NetBlocks, an internet observatory that tracks internet outages across the world, also confirmed service disruptions.

“Confirmed: Real-time network data show internet disruptions across Pakistan as ousted prime minister Imran Khan organises mass rallies; metrics show impact to multiple providers in cities including Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad,” it said in a Twitter post at around 6pm on Wednesday.

However, it updated two hours later that internet service had been restored across networks, adding that “providers have claimed a problem in the web filtering system”.

The PTA stated late on Wednesday evening that the issue reported earlier in the services of an internet company had been rectified. “Internet traffic is normal now,” it said in a statement.

Meanwhile, responding to a query, a senior executive of a mobile company said: “No directive has been issued by the law enforcement to shut down network anywhere in the country.”

The executive said there were some localised issues either due to jammers used by the police or any other law enforcement agency.

Earlier in the day, the PTA asked telecom operators to prepare a contingency plan to ensure uninterrupted services in the country, including Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan on Wednesday and in the coming days.

The regulator also issued guidelines to develop a mechanism for emergency preparedness and response, such as the provision of necessary resources at all levels for smooth functioning of voice service and internet services at their respective networks.

“Any major communications breakdown has to be immediately reported to PTA headquarters and its concerned zonal or regional offices in the jurisdiction of which the breakdown occurs,” it said.

It directed all cellular mobile operators and local loop operators to ensure customers have access to their services such as mobile top-ups, scratch cards, provision of SIMS, etc.

It directed mobile companies to coordinate with local authorities to operate franchises, top-up outlets and communication networks in affected areas.

The PTA suggested that the federal and provincial governments ensure free and unrestricted movement of relevant staff of telecom operators across the country and to support the staff related to the maintenance of submarine cables, towers, call centres and data centres.

Published in Dawn, May 26th, 2022

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