Internet Service Providers Association of Pakistan (ISPAK) was formed in 1997 with an objective to provide a common and united platform for all the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operating in the country where they can take up professional, infrastructural and regulatory issues and deal with national telecom regulator, i.e, PTA, national telecom infrastructure provider, i.e., PTCL, Ministry of Communications and other Governmental/Non Governmental organizations.
In early days of Internet in Pakistan, PTCL did not have any infrastructure to deliver sub rate (less than 2 Mbits) bandwidth to the ISPs. So ISPs were forced to invest in their own hardware whether it was a digital cross connect installed at PTCL exchanges or Radio Modems from Exchange to ISP premises all at the expense of ISPs.
PTCL, being a state owned monopoly, was the only telecom infrastructure provider in the country and ISPs faced a very rough and tough time in getting the infrastructure approved and acquired from PTCL which was too much shy in offering such facilities to the private sector operators. PTCL also feared that Internet would open a back door to eat up their revenues of International Telephony (incoming calls to Pakistan) by operating gray VOIP services. In those early days, illegal or gray VOIP termination was considered as one of the most lucrative businesses and ISPs having ready infrastructure were the first target to offer VOIP termination to companies abroad.
The Internet industry felt that the threat from PTCL and PTA was imminent and the industry wasn’t quite strong either. So ISPs from Karachi to Peshawar got united and ISPAK was formed. Since then ISPAK represented ISP industry of Pakistan at numerous national and international forums including PTA, PTCL, Ministry of Science & Technology, Ministry of IT & Telecommunications, etc.
Unlike other telecom industry associations that have not been so vocal and upfront, ISPAK always played at front foot for the rights of Internet industry and customers and has been instrumental for many reforms in ranging from bringing down the Internet prices in the country to improvement of quality by fostering competition.
ISPAK’s struggle has resulted the Internet bandwidth prices offered by the incumbent, i.e., PTCL to come down to current level of $1,600 per 2 Mbits per month from an astronomical high figure of over $80,000 back in late nineties. The results have been quite visible - dialup Internet which was offered to the customers at Rs. 100.00 per hour at that time is now available at average price of Rs. 5.00 per hour.
Although lot have positively changed in telecom sector in Pakistan since early days of Internet which was the first deregulated service in 1995, the strong arm tactics and anti-competitive moves of incumbents still continue. Despite the telecom deregulation in fixed line since 2003, there has been no alternate Internet backbones fully operational yet so ISPs continue to rely on PTCL as being sole provider of Internet bandwidth and copper loop for broadband DSL services. The ISPAK struggle therefore continues to ensure a level playing field.