July 24, 2020
By Haider Kaleem
Voicepk.net had an exclusive conversation with the spokesperson of Special Communications Organisation and head of marketing, Surosh Hina regarding the ongoing issues revolving around the online classes for students under the pandemic and the need for better internet facilities in the Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) and Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) regions.
Students from several parts of Pakistan and its administered areas have been sharing their concerns regarding the provision of the internet but in GB an AJK and even Balochistan, the only telecommunication provider has been widely criticized and protested against, as the students have been facing serious difficulties while trying to attend their online classes.
Many students from across the region participated in Voicepk.net’s online campaign called #OnlineJaloos during the first week of June 2020, where students shared their voices regarding the situations they were facing.
When education is denied in the name of security: https://t.co/HVIfT7NlRc brings you voices from across Pak 2 highlight how due 2 no internet access students from Gilgit Baltistan,AJK,f r tribal areas cannot attend online classes.#OnlineJalooshttps://t.co/UkiJNJXeQl
— Voicepk.net (@voicepkdotnet) June 9, 2020
A history of issues
Statements by the Special Communications Organisation (SCO) were widely criticized by people on media for accusing the protesters of ‘supporting anti-state sentiments’.
SCO is a public sector organization working under the Ministry of IT & Telecom, Government of Pakistan which operates and maintains all telecom services in Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK) and Gilgit Baltistan (GB).
Hundreds of students have been protesting the lack of internet services or slow internet services which becomes a hurdle between attending online classes in the administered area post-closure of campuses to curb the spread of COVID-19.
I have to walk km’s daily to attend my classes,I faced net issues many times during my quizies,papers and uploading assignments.
SCO failed to provide internet services in GB.
Let other networks work as well.
— Rasheed Kamil (@RasheedKamil4) July 7, 2020
احتجاجیغذر انتظامیہ کی جانب سے ایس سی او کی ناقص سروس کےخلاف ینگے تو آئینمظاہرہ کرنے پہ طلبا راہنماؤں کےخلاف ایف آئی آر درج کرنے کی تیاریاں، اب آپ خود ہی فیصلہ کریں کہ اس احتجاج پہ بھی ایف آئی آر کر 1/1پاکستان کے مطابق جو آزادی حاصل ہیں اسکا کیا ہوگا؟؟@HomeDeptGB @zameer_abbas pic.twitter.com/gFXI9lpfxo
— Inayat Abdali #Internet4GilgitBaltistan
(@InayatAbdali1) June 24, 2020
In response to these protests, statements were shared by social media accounts of SCO which claimed that the protestors were supporting ‘anti-state elements’ but were later retracted upon criticism.
Would you believe it? SCO– a mil run, internet service, terms people of Gilgit-Baltistan demanding better internet as anti-state. Protesting against poor services of gov-run institutions now constitutes sedition. pic.twitter.com/08JloXZgxH
— Zaighum Abbas (@Zagum_Abbass) July 13, 2020
The initial conversation
Voicepk.net was initially told by a spokesperson of the SCO who also heads their marketing department, Sarosh Hina that their website and social platforms were hacked and no such statement was released by the SCO hence they were immediately taken down after the administration was informed as it was not coming through their official spokesperson.
“We filed a petition at GB chief court a few months ago but that was not actually to cordon off or stop any other CMOs, basically we just wanted our 4G services to continue and then we also filed the same petition at Islamabad High Court but it was not against other CMOs, in fact, we been welcoming other so much so that we have two bilateral commitments with CM Pak (Zong) and Ufone while Jazz is already there and some go for Telenor in terms of media buying,” said Hina.
According to the spokesperson, the population of GB was around 1.5 million at some point but now SCO has witnessed an increase of around 33 percent in population due to which the organization had to increase the bandwidth as the usage of the data increased from 4.5 GBs to 10 GBs but the SCO still offered double data offers and also made the S NET available to students of KIU for free in the month of April and May so that they could continue their education through online classes
Speaking about the protestors outside the SCO office in GB, she said that although we cannot entertain everyone we contacted the organizers upon which we found out that they were actually not even students but only some local influencers but we still invited them to sit with us in two of our press events but they did not sit with us, in fact, refused to talk.
“We have already clarified that other CMOs are already operating because we not only have agreements with but we are also sharing more than 100 towers and other things on the highway project in fact the new fiber-optic under CPEC will also make the situation better,” she added.
Voicepk.net has learned from the official that SCO is the only entity related to ICT to have completed the first phase of its project commitments under CPEC by laying 820 km of OFA from Khunjerab to Rawalpindi.
The media of SCO is dealt with by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), which is a military media wing of the Pakistan Armed Forces while the Director-General of SCO is Major General. Ali Farhan HI(M). The SCO is basically a department of the ministry of IT but the administration of
the department is run by the Army Signal Corps because no other state institution or foreign entity can launch their communications services in the LOC due to security concerns.