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Telecom Companies Concerned About FBR’s Decision to Block SIMs of Non-Filers

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Pakistan’s telecom companies have collectively expressed their concerns to the Ministry of IT regarding the Federal Board of Revenue’s (FBR) recent decision to block SIMs of non-filers. They claim the decision was made in undue haste and will adversely impact telecom customers. The letter has also been forwarded to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) regarding the FBR’s order under the Income Tax General Order (ITGO) issued on April 29.

According to the letter by the cellular mobile operators (CMOs), they are obligated to provide uninterrupted services to their customers, except in the circumstances mentioned in the Telecom Act and applicable regulations. There are no instances in which CMOs can disconnect or block the service of any customer. The CMOs have suggested that delinquent individuals should be sanctioned and penalized directly without involving and adversely impacting the telecom industry.

The CMOs have also emphasized that the ITGO being forced through with undue haste will adversely impact the customers and gravely affect their ability to get essential services, which have now been defined as the right to life, according to different judgments of superior courts. Besides, the aspect of consumer protection was important with relevant constitutional provisions of basic human rights, and Consumer Protection Regulations mandated operators that any suspension of service is subject to prior notice of such intentions. However, in the instant case, the issuance of notice is not possible because of ITGO’s legal defects.

The letter further said that if telecom operators comply with the ITGO, the affected individuals may initiate litigation against the CMOs, which is unacceptable and unjust. It added that telecom companies were one of the biggest contributors to revenue collection in the country, and before implementing such orders, certain protections or indemnities must be given to CMOs through an amendment in law to prevent adverse consequences or claims by customers.

The telecom industry also suggests that every individual is entitled to fair and equitable treatment with due process under the law. Therefore, individuals affected by the ITGO should be duly informed through an extensive media campaign and provided with show-cause notices, allowing them to present their case in a tribunal or court of law. The bulk blocking of SIMs would be an issue technically, and CMOs would need to warn such customers multiple times before execution of any blocking through SMS messages if required by law, as they have contractual obligations towards their consumers to provide advance statutory notice with valid reasons, which in this case are absent.

In conclusion, the telecom industry has called for a reconsideration of the FBR’s decision and believes that appropriate measures should be taken to ensure that the interests of customers are protected while delinquent individuals are penalized directly without harming the telecom industry.

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