The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) on Tuesday issued a clarification saying that, contrary to media reports, it had not implemented centralised DNS (Domain Name System) control.

The DNS is a coded system consisting of 12 digits used to identify internet protocol addresses, which translates them into letters to identify a website.

The statement came after a Profit magazine report stated the telecom sector regulator wanted to implement the system, which is seen as an onslaught on the fundamentals of the internet infrastructure.

In an Op-Ed for Dawn, Usama Khilji — the director of an advocacy forum for digital rights — wrote that if fully implemented, it would "significantly slow down internet speed in Pakistan, increase the cost of internet services, undermine privacy and effectively stunt Pakistan’s IT sector expansion and advancement in technology and associated services."

However, in the statement issued today, PTA said it had only implemented an "automation of blocking of unlawful content as mandated" under Section 37 of the Prevention of Electronic Crimes Act, 2016 (Peca).

"Contrary to the claims, PTA has not implemented centralised DNS control whereby all resolution will be centrally performed by PTA. Instead, the resolution will be performed at internet service providers' (ISPs) end," the statement said.

The regulator said that the blocking of illegal content was already being done.

However, to improve the effectiveness of the same, an automation process through domain name resolution at ISP level has been implemented under the policy directives of the government of Pakistan, the statement added.

"This has been done in consultation and extensive due deliberation with the ISPs of Pakistan."

PTA said that the recent development had no effect on increasing the cost of internet services, and neither slowed down internet speeds nor had any implications on the privacy of citizens as had been "wrongly portrayed in some media reports".

"Furthermore, it will also have no effect on the current arrangements with content delivery networks (CDNs). In view of above stated position, all speculations related to the process should put to rest," the statement said.

PTA at odds with ISPs over domain policy

Earlier this month, it was reported that serious differences had cropped up between the telecom sector regulator and ISPs as the former wanted to implement the central DNS while the latter are concerned that the move will make the internet speed slow and its rate costly.

All the ISPs in the country, including Nayatel, PTCL, SCO, Jazz, Zong, TWA, Wateen, Multinet, Nexlinx, Cybernet and KK Networks, attended a meeting called by PTA to discuss the steps for implementing the centralised DNS blocking policy.

The PTA asked them to provide DNS Server IPs, which will be white-listed at web-filtering gateways of cable systems supplying internet to Pakistan. Other IPs will be blacklisted to enable the regulator to block all DNS traffic from the country.

Sources in the industry said the operators were concerned that such type of DNS blocking could have huge impact on internet services.

The PTA said it wanted to do impact assessment of such blocking with three of the operators — Nexlinx, Multinet and KK Networks. The other operators were directed to share their feedback about DNS blocking in the next meeting.

The ISPs were of the opinion that more than 65 per cent of internet traffic in Pakistan was at five CDNs — Google, Facebook, Netflix, Akamai and YouTube — and they should be included in it too.

The ISPs also said that if the Pakistan-based DNS was implemented it would make the hosting of these five CDNs very costly and even slow down the internet speed. They also highlighted that internet customers using cloud DNS services would not be able to use such services, as many of them were operating outside the country.

The PTA has said the move has been initiated to control the downloading of harmful websites which will be blocked, after due process, as these fall in the category of illegal content as per Peca and other relevant laws of the country.

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