Pakistan’s Telecom Industry Goes on a Halt and It’s Getting Very Ugly

Telecom Industry of Pakistan, that won global appreciation and awards for its dynamic growth, is at a standstill these days because there’s no policy or regulatory work being approved by the country’s telecom regulator. There are tens of projects that are either being delayed or not approved because the officials probably think that by not approving anything, they staying on the safe side since “No Work means No Mistakes”.

Telecom operators, new investors, upcoming services or anything that could bring a positive change in the industry has gone on a halt as the regulator is not approving files as it used to in the past.

The major reason behind all this is the hard hammer on PTA officials in an alleged scam that revolves around dozens of officials from the PTA and MoIT.

If insiders are to be believed, PTA and MoIT are saying NO to pretty much everything that’s coming their way. The officials believe that there’s no point in approving even legitimate things if NAB will just raise questions down the line.

They think that no work will mean there’s no room for mistakes or, ultimately, NAB investigations in the future.

While this could be a good strategy to avoid NAB’s wrath, the situation is depressing for the members of the telecom sector who have been waiting for months for approvals.

Background

If you are wondering how the “No Work, No Mistake” strategy came into existence, it all began after NAB opened an investigation against several PTA and MoIT officials for alleged corruption in the auction of 3G and 4G licenses.

The corruption is mainly attributed towards the 4G license of Warid — which NAB thinks was illegal and possibly involves kickbacks.

The team, that awarded the NOC to Warid for the deployment of its 4G network on a spectrum that Warid bought in 2004 for 2G, says that Warid’s spectrum is “technology neutral” and that they had no legal way of stopping Warid from deploying its 4G network.

This means that Warid bought a spectrum in 2004 and deployed 2G network (GSM) while using the technology neutral spectrum and then in 2014 it deployed 4G on the same spectrum since the license issued to Warid clearly read that the spectrum was technology neutral and that the license holder could deploy any technology while remaining within the allotted spectrum.

NAB, on the other hand, is of the view that technology neutrality for Warid’s spectrum meant all available technologies in 2004 (when the license was awarded) and not any technology that could have been introduced in future.

The PTA team that awarded the NOC to Warid says that there’s no such future proofing mentioned in Warid’s License and that whatever happened is strictly as per the books and law.

While there’s a clear discrepancy in how both the parties are interpreting the law, NAB has the upper hand as it can arrest the officials and put them behind bars. This will immediately trigger media houses and a bad press with taglines “3G aur 4G auction main Arboon rupay ki corruption ka inkishaaf” will take over everything else.

If sources are to be believed, such time is not far as NAB is reportedly preparing to arrest former Chairman PTA, former member PTA and some other officials of the regulator to probe into the matter.

While telecom industry widely believes that the PTA team — that auctioned 3G and 4G license in 2014 — did a remarkable service to the industry and the nation, NAB is all set to throw the telecom industry back to stone age and an India-like scandal is in the making, which will take Pakistan’s telecom sector to its deathbed.

Tech reporter with over 10 years of experience, founder of ProPakistani.PK


  • Hamza Sajid

    Sad To Hear This :-(
    Pakistan needs more departments like NAB becuase our all department are full of culprits.

    • Zafar Abbas Rizvi

      And among those culprits, NAB itself is on top of the list

    • Zafar Abbas Rizvi

      Civil service is not doing any work because of NAB fear means no work, no mistake. KPK, Balochistan and specially Sindh got Billions of Dollars as revenue share in past decade and done nothing. And right now those people are enjoying sitting at homes. I am an amsolute critic of PMLN and know how much corruption they made but even being a critic, one has to admit that they done so much work in Punjab (although priorities are arguable) and now facing cases against those projects. Tell me one thing honestly, if you are a NAB, who will you catch first, who received 100 and keep all the money and done Nothing OR who received 100, kept 50 and did some work with remaining 50? If PMLN had wrong priorities, NAB is doing the same.
      And trust me days are coming when civil servants will go to office daily, do nothing and receive salary at the end of the month. Its called No Work, No NAB Case

      • Wali Khan

        100% true,

        No Work = No NAB Case

  • Abdullah

    Amir bhai bhi patwaari niklay

  • Ahtysham Afzal

    Now i know why Telenor keep deducting my balance in the name of using internet on standard rates, although i never use their internet and use wifi.

  • regally lawyered

    NAB is correctly investigating those who awarded an ambiguous license to Warid. Who does not know that ineptitude of govt. functionaries has always caused mammoth loss to our exchequer? We have to start catching the usual suspects.

    If PTA and MoIT allowed Warid to launch 4G without approval from law ministry, there is a fraud right there. Ex officials should not be worried if they did not do anything wrong. NAB cant blackmail anyone without finding the skeletons hidden in target’s closet. If such a clueless goon like NAB is able to sniff rotten meat out, who is to be blamed?

    PP has itself reported Bilal Musharraf’s role in PTCL sale, Anusha’s husband finding an important place right before spectrum auctions, and what not.

    NAB is a gangster outfit certainly. No one knows how and how much money do its inept officials make. However, when hardened criminals are at each other’s throats, we need not be worried. They will clean each other up.

    What is stopping incumbent PTA management from ordering an internal departmental inquiry? People getting lucrative positions always have a sacred oath with their predecessors and successors. They dont look into each other’s affairs. You scratch my back, and i scratch yours. How hard is it to get that?

    Does the term “technology neutral” mean an unlimited opportunity to launch really everything? For instance, a radio channel, airtraffic control services, WLL services – you name it. Obviously no. Context is very important. Similarly, talking about technology of a given time obviously means tech prevailing in those times. When a company gets itself taxi service license, it still has to get separate license to start autonomous taxi services. A taxi service license effectively means a tech neutral license for driving all forms of cabs on road yet this is not how it is done. Even Warid itself agreed with this interpretation and did not launch 4G even when others did. I am sure they were waiting for the ‘right’ time and the ‘right’ people. What stopped them from harnessing the power of their invaluable tech neutral license? They were very rich for a long time. How many times did they seek permission to start non 2G services during these many years? If their application was denied, why didnt they goto courts then? Did they ever ask PTA to issue a corrigendum clarifying that tech neutral license was valid for future tech as well? Why did they act dishonestly like Etisalat which signed ambiguous agreement with PK, made an inflated bid to make sure only they would get the deal, and then refused to pay more than whatever second highest bid was? If they knew they had a bona fide tech neutral license, why seek PTA’s permission at all? Just by releasing this permission, PTA has endorsed a convoluted opinion that Warid could really launch virtually everything under the license. Dont we know how do land grabbers operate? They occupy a place and sell it as soon as possible and flee. Warid did exactly the same. Now, as soon as NAB issues its findings restricting Jazz from using disputed Warid spectrum, the case will immediately land in international courts. No matter what the legal interpretation, its a fact that PTA (which means government itself) allowed Warid to use disputed spectrum for 4G services and did not raise that issue when Jazz took over it finally. Why the fuss now? So, on the basis of this very fact, the permission is virtually irreversible and contention is hopelessly time barred in legal language.
    No matter what, these companies are here for making money only. We should not give a duck about what happens in corridors of power. We should be faithful to our own interest only – selfishly.

  • Muhammad Tayyab

    Aamir Bhai. As per law you also have no authority to discuss such matters which are under investigation. How you can say NAB is interpreting laws on its own. You should understand that this matter is of sensitive nature. You are just a writer not legal advisor. Any such scam must be investigated and corruption must be eradicated.

    • Saeed

      Get a life, if someone speaks up you losers have issues. If corruption should be eradicated then empower the executive not strip them off their right to work. I suppose it is people like you who wish Pakistan never makes any progress. Had you any knowledge of how things work in the background you would know how NAB works :) but alas you only care about shutting people speaking the truth.

      • jinx

        You seem to know how does NAB work. Please enlighten us.

  • AbdulB1

    I think this is not the reason… the reason is the huge tax which was charged on calls and balance load which had no official record with the tax authority. it is similar to media cries that we are dying without ads. now telecom companies can’t charge any tax without any record so they are unhappy and crying.

  • This seriously seems like a paid and planted article by the Telecos.