This week two bizarre news shook the internet community of Pakistan. First was Punjab Government’s decision to implement 19.5% tax on internet services (already implemented in Sindh) and has been criticized strongly by tech community of Punjab. The second news emerged from Sindh where Sharjeel Inam Memon, a minister in Sindh Government, announced plans for public WiFi for Karachi.
Amidst fiasco where water issues of the metropolis are getting worst, the announcement of providing free WiFi has added salt to the wounds of Karachiites. While a noble thought, it’s the wrong idea at the wrong time. Considering the fact that 3G/4G is rapidly gaining grounds in the country, reaching out to even rural areas where internet was otherwise not available, the Public WiFi experiment makes little sense.
In the list of cities with Public WiFi, those medium to large cities dominate the list that are either known for their high-tech industry (Tokyo, Hong Kong, Seol) or tourist attraction (Florence, Macau). Karachi is neither high-tech city (though trying to be one) nor is it a tourist attraction. Keeping in mind how dangerous public WiFi is for ordinary people, Sindh government’s announcement has received backlash from various quarters.
Here are a few reasons we believe this is a flop idea:
- Immediate need of Karachi is water, not WiFi
- PTCL has monopoly as far as internet penetration is concerned, and it throttles competition. If Sindh government wants to improve internet penetration, it should deal with PTCL to stop throttling competition.
- 3G/4G internet is now available on all telecom services. People can connect to the internet, much securely, than any Public WiFi
- Several areas of Karachi such as restaurants, coffee shops and other public places already provide WiFi services to their customers.
- Several cities in the USA failed at their Municipal WiFi (public WiFi) projects because faster internet services were available at home while Public WiFi connections were usually 1 Mbps (average US household has 8 Mbps broadband connection)
- Availability of internet at Airport, railway station etc sounds good, but with 3G/4G availability with speeds ranging from 1.5 Mbps to 4 Mbps on 3G/4G with packages as low as Rs. 8/GB, what benefits will Public WiFi offer are unknown
- The expenses of such a project coupled with feasibility make this an expensive venture with little to no returns
- The public WiFi can only be placed in public areas which include libraries (Karachi barely has any), public parks (in shambles), government offices, hospitals, airport, railway station and similar places that are already covered by mobile broadband
- The people need to have relevant equipment to use the internet. Most of the areas where public WiFi can be provided by the government, the people coming there belong to lower strata of economy and most may not even have WiFi compatible handsets.
- The idea seem to have been inspired from Punjab government’s announcement in April to provide Public WiFi across Lahore. While difficult for them, it is requirement for the burgeoning business class of Lahore.
- In comparison, Karachi’s business class is constricting and people prefer to stay either in office or at home due to security reasons.
- Sindh government will not be providing high speed internet to public in any case, restricting speed enough for browsing. Still, a couple of people activating torrents will freeze internet for anyone else connecting to the network
- Being public, the network is prone to malicious attacks and can be used by hackers to not only steal information but also plant virus/spywares/malwares to unsuspecting users
- Sensitive government information can be hacked via this method since government employees may not be updated with latest safety methods against ever evolving hacking ways.
- Sindh government should focus on consumer protection by focusing on ISPs to improve their internet services. Without that check on ISPs and instead providing them major government business by public WiFi would lead to even pathetic services, people may even end up complaining that Public WiFis don’t work.
Note: SmartChoice.pk is not against Public WiFi, only the recent announcement by Sindh Government without details or proper homework is the reason for this post.