ISLAMABAD: Moralists in Pakistan had long been crying that the night packages offered by the mobile phone companies are “a bad influence” on the society. This week the matter came to a head in the Senate.
Angry senators demanded that the government take action to stop the services. But how?
Technically, there exists no law that would allow that.
“No court or government can ask the cellular operators, conducting lawful business in the country, to stop offering the late night packages,” Barrister Mohammad Amir Ali told Dawn when asked for his opinion on the demand.
In fact, members of the Standing Committees of the Senate and the National Assembly had been seized with the issue during the last five years but their discussion never went beyond instructing the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) to “direct” the five cellular services operators to stop night packages.
All the lawmakers did in these meetings was to moan that the mobile phone companies had been targeting the gullible with their low rate, late night ‘talk’ and ‘chat’ offers for wasting their time, depriving children of sleep and “corrupting” the morals of their young subscribers for profit.
Even at the latest such meeting of the Senate Standing Committee on Information Technology, no initiative was taken to introduce an enabling law to stop all these “evils”.
Senator Mohamamd Mohsin Khan Leghari, a member of the committee, did not agree with the demand to shut down the night packages but said the mobile phone companies should “reconsider their marketing strategies and target relevant consumers” for their services.
Advocate Babar Sattar agreed that the PTA possessed no authority to regulate cellular traffic content. He said,
There is no explicit statutory provision in the Telecom Act 1996. This is moral panic and other solutions should be found instead of completely finishing services for consumers.
The government informed the Senate during its current session that each of the five companies has two to three late night, low cost talk and chatting packages on offer.
Mobilink offers ‘Gup Shup Corner’ and ‘Mtalk’, Warid its ‘Anonymous Chat’, ‘SMS Chatter Box’, and ‘Crazy Night Warid’, Ufone the ‘Ufone Dosti’, ‘SMS Buddies’ and ‘SMS Chat Buddy’, and Zong its ‘Zong Chat Buddy’, ‘SMS Chat Buddy’, and ‘Zong Good Night Offer’, and Telenor has ‘Late Night Offer’ and ‘Chat Room’ on offer to subscribers.
Barrister Amir Ali says that the Specific Relief Act 1877 does not allow the government to ask a lawful business to curtail its activities/dealings.
In his opinion, directing the cellular companies to stop their night packages will harm businesses operating at night, such as call centers, which have invested millions in Pakistan.
“There are no negative intentions behind these packages. Misuse happens everywhere. In the case of children, parents are best to enforce discipline,” said the corporate lawyer.
PTA spokesperson Khurram Mehran recalled that after receiving complaints from the public and the legislative bodies, the PTA had sent a notice to the mobile phone companies on November 14, 2012, directing hem to stop immediately their night packages.
“The companies challenged the directive in the Islamabad High Court on November 21, 2012 but withdrew it eight days, only to raise the same in Supreme Court when the PTA pursued the matter, where the case is still pending,” the spokesperson added.
A senior official of a mobile phone company said the night packages were introduced for the entrepreneurs and businesses operating at night.
“From night watchmen to businesses – especially those conducting transactions abroad after later hours – all avail the low cost packages,” he said.
“It is imperative to utilise our networks at night when the traffic load goes down to 10 per cent compared to the daytime load of 90 per cent.”