KARACHI: Pakistan has one of the lowest internet speeds in the world, while a huge chunk of the population still lacks access to the internet, said a new report on the digital landscape and human rights in the country on Monday.
Title: Bytes for All Report Highlights Internet Landscape in Pakistan: Challenges and Progress
A recent report by Bytes for All, Pakistan, a renowned digital rights organization, reveals that although Pakistan has made strides in terms of internet access and governance, there is still much room for improvement. The country remains one of the worst performers in Asia, despite increased internet penetration. The report titled "Internet Landscape Report 2022" sheds light on the challenges faced by Pakistan, including limited access to the internet, slow speeds, cybercrime, gender disparities, and the growth of internet banking.
Internet Access and Connectivity Issues
According to the report, approximately 15 percent of Pakistan's population still lacks access to internet and telecom services. Even those with access suffer from slow internet speeds and unreliable service. Ookla's Speedtest Global Index ranked Pakistan 118 out of 141 countries for mobile internet speed and 150 out of 178 countries for fixed broadband speed as of December 2022. The average speed recorded was between 10.15 and 15.5 Mbps.
Gender Gap and Digital Divide
The gender gap in terms of mobile phone ownership has widened in Pakistan, with only half of women owning a mobile phone compared to over 75 percent of men. This disparity highlights the ongoing challenge of bridging the digital divide between genders. Efforts must be made to ensure equal access to technology and empower women in the digital realm.
Rise in Cybercrime and Online Harassment
The report highlights the alarming increase in cybercrime in Pakistan, with over 100,000 complaints registered by December 2022, marking the highest number in the past five years. Women are disproportionately affected, facing harassment and blackmail online. The online environment remains hazardous, with the prevalence of blasphemy allegations, online campaigning, mob organizing, and subsequent violence, including cases of lynching. Unfortunately, authorities have failed to take meaningful action against cases originating from the digital space.
Challenges in Governance and Freedom of Expression
The report reveals the alleged attempts by the state to suppress criticism and control online spaces. Cases have been filed against journalists, activists, and political opponents for expressing unfavorable views on social media. Furthermore, efforts have been made to enact stricter defamation laws to stifle dissent. These actions pose significant challenges to freedom of expression and undermine the country's democratic values.
Internet Banking Growth Amid Economic Challenges
While the local e-commerce and fintech sectors faced negative trends due to the global economic downturn and Pakistan's crises, the report notes that funding for startups significantly declined in the second half of 2022. However, despite these challenges, Pakistan's startups managed to secure $348 million in funds. On the other hand, internet banking transactions witnessed a substantial increase of 51.7 percent in 2022, with the number of internet banking users growing by almost 60 percent to 3.1 million. The report highlights the State Bank's efforts to accelerate the progress of digital banking through the issuance of a licensing framework for digital banks.
The Bytes for All report provides valuable insights into the state of Pakistan's internet landscape. It emphasizes the need for addressing the challenges of limited access, slow speeds, cybercrime, gender disparities, and threats to freedom of expression. Policymakers, regulators, and stakeholders must work together to bridge the digital divide, enhance internet infrastructure, combat cybercrime, and create a safe and inclusive online environment. Additionally, the growth of internet banking presents opportunities for financial inclusion and economic empowerment. By addressing these issues and fostering a favorable digital ecosystem, Pakistan can unlock its true potential in the digital age.
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