By Ali Imran
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Telecommunication Authorityâ€™s (PTA) highest priority for the last few months has been to support national efforts to counter the immediate challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. PTA has demonstrated its commitment by effectively leveraging digital technologies for public awareness through trace, track and quarantine (TTQ), facilitating funds disbursement to needy through Ehsaas programme, and via public donations in Prime Ministerâ€™s COVID-19 Relief Fund .
To raise awareness about coronavirus, the PTA directed cellular mobile operators (CMOs) to send awareness messages to subscribers across Pakistan. As many as 1028.5 million coronavirus awareness messages have so far been sent since March,19 2020 in Urdu, English and regional languages to mobile users across Pakistan.
More than 0.58 million cautionary messages have so far been sent to travelers and persons suspected of coming into contact with coronavirus since March,19 2020. Furthermore, corona awareness ring back tones (RBTs) have been activated on 79.4% or 131.7 million of total subscribersâ€™ mobile devices. Internet access is proving to be one of the most valuable non-medical commody right now. It is through the Internet and mobile that Pakistan continues to stay connected. Many are able to work from home and while schools are closed, students are still learning with the help of online tools and instruction.
PTA is supporting e-education and distance learning programs in support of Federal Ministry of Education and Higher Education Commission (HEC). In this regard, the PTA is working jointly with HEC to facilitate and promote online education. Meetings are also being held between the PTA, HEC and mobile operators for launch of Taleemi Bundle to facilitate students for distance learning and online classes.
To raise awareness regarding TeleSchool â€“ Pakistanâ€™s first education channel for students a joint project of Pakistan Television (PTV) and the Ministry of Education, 93.15 million SMS messages have been sent. Increased traffic demand has led the industry to adopt measures to keep services available to people and enable them to stay connected.
The PTA successfully mobilized the telecom sector to carry out activities required to maintain performance and services. Operators have increased data allowances and are offering discounted bundles and offers.
These packages offered by giving additional data and on-net voice minutes have been launched to facilitate people to stay and work from home.
Global Service Providers and streaming platforms are also taking essential steps to leave more broadband for essential services. For which, Google and Netflix informed the PTA about how they are easing out stress on national telecommunications networks in the wake of COVID-19 Pandemic.
Google has introduced new features and resources to provide locally relevant information to Pakistani users. These include expansion of COVID-19 SOS alerts and knowledge panels on Google Search, as well as YouTube Information Panels. These resources feature link to National Institute of Health (NIH) to provide locally relevant information to Pakistani citizens.
Google also launched Bolo a speech-based reading app that uses machine learning to help children read aloud confidently, using their own voice. The app has been made available in Urdu. In order to reduce its traffic on telecommunication networks in Pakistan, Netflix developed ways to reduce its traffic by 25% while also maintaining quality of service.
To facilitate operations of educational institutions, and call centers etcetera 120 IPs have been whitelisted since March 2020,19. The PTA has also allocated 14 different short codes and 6 UAN (Toll Free) numbers to Government entities working on controlling the pandemic.
To increase public awareness about â€˜Prime Ministerâ€™s COVID-19 Pandemic Relief Fund 2020â€™, 142.08 million SMS messages have been sent to subscribers urging them to donate to this noble cause.
mobile subscribers can donate Rs 20/SMS by sending a text message on code 6677. Rs 13 million had so far been contributed to the Relief Fund through SMS campaign. The PTA has also contributed to the Prime Ministerâ€™s COVID-19 Relief Fund. The chairman, members of the authority and officers has donated their two days salary while lower grade employees have contributed one day salary towards the fund.
The PTAâ€™s work to meet the challenges posed by COVID-19 will continue full speed ahead. In the long run, the PTA will continue to make efforts to achieve targets set under the SDGs as it has done previously through the use of enabling ICTs for empowerment of marginalized segments of society and women, in particular; growth and development of reliable, sustainable and resilient infrastructure, supporting economic development, human well-being with a focus on affordable access.
By optimizing the power of ICT, gathering, disseminating and analyzing information, it can accelerate action to help vulnerable groups and create a better future for the people of Pakistan. Pakistan like other parts of the world would celebrate the anniversary of the signing of the first International Telegraph Convention and the creation of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) on May 17.
This yearâ€™s theme â€œConnect 2030: ICTs for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)â€ highlights Information Communications Technology (ICT) advances for transition to smart and sustainable development, focusing on specific ICT-enabled solutions. The overarching goal of this yearâ€™s WTISD theme is to help raise awareness of the possibilities that the use of ICTs can bring to economies especially to the vulnerable segments of the society.