Today's Paper | November 29, 2020

Updated 03 Sep, 2020 09:24am

ISPs, PTA at odds over procedure to contain ‘indecent’ content

ISLAMABAD: A meeting between the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) ended in a deadlock on Wednesday as both sides remained at odds over procedures to contain ‘indecent content’ on the internet.

The ISPs claimed that the PTA wanted to regulate political voices in the garb of containing indecent content, alleging that actions against the Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) would only translate in converting the broadband into a narrow band in the country.

The telecom regulator, however, had called the meeting in its headquarters with a single point agenda that “pornographic websites are being served/accessed through CDNs interfaced locally with your network”.

The PTA told the ISPs that pornographic contents were violation of Section 37 of the PECA 2016 and that internet providers had also been informed about its concerns, but there was no improvement in the situation.

There are four key CDN providers in Pakistan — ‘YouTube’, ‘Facebook’, ‘Akamai’ and Netflix. They are established at the servers of local ISPs which includes PTCL, StormFiber, Nayatel, Wi-Tribe etc and telecom companies, including Jazz, Telenor, Zong and Ufone.

While YouTube, Facebook and Netflix show their contents through their own CDNs, Akamai is the third party contractor for many international content providers, including some foreign media houses.

Though neither the PTA nor representatives of the ISPs were willing to talk on record about the meeting, officials said that it was responsibility of the ISPs to ensure that no pornographic/immoral/illegal content is being shown to users through CDNs.

“The ISPs are the gateway to Pakistan and they needed to pressurise their partners to manage illegal contents, especially immoral subjects,” the officials said. They even cited the example of sectarian and hate based trends at Twitter in recent days.

“How Twitter allowed to create this kind of # and gain so much traction,” the official said. “How such trends are allowed and pick up so much traction. These dangerous trends have potential to create serious internal strife that is why there is a need to keep a regulatory check at CDNs too.”

Pakistan has currently around 3,000 Gbps of internet traffic and the CDNs in Pakistan serve an equal amount of traffic to Pakistani internet users.

Sources in the industry said that the ISPs downplayed the PTAs demand and expressed their inability to regulate the contents of CDNs.

“CDNs are controlled by foreign content providers and ISPs have no control over it,” said a representative of the ISP, adding, “PTA should get the filtration done by its own costly Web Monitoring System (WMS) and enhance its capacity”.

Meanwhile, during the meeting the delegation of ISPs told the PTA that by shutting CDNs would mean shutting down 60 per cent of Internet in Pakistan and making cost of internet 2-3 times of current rates.

“Besides, the PTA has to understand that immoral contents are not shown at any of the key CDNs in the country, so they need to identify the issue clearly,” said a senior executive of an ISP.

While referring to the PECA 2016, the PTA has asked the ISPs to ensure that no immoral content passes through their network.

Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2020

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