Pakistan’s telecom regulator has directed all companies to discontinue voice and text chat packages to stop youth from indulging in activities "contrary to the moral values of society".
The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) acted after the federal government received complaints from lawmakers and hardline groups about mobile phone packages that allow users to make cheap calls late at night.
In a communication, PTA told cellular companies that the packages should be stopped forthwith as they are "contrary to the moral values of our society".
"Stop all kinds of chat packages (voice and SMS) irrespective of 'time of the day' and submit compliance by September 2 positively," said the directive signed by PTA director general Muhammad Talib Dogar.
A PTA official said: "We had sent the telecom companies a letter in November 2012 to comply with our directions but they have still not complied and are offering these packages."
Leaders of hardline groups and parliamentarians from religious parties and the ruling PML-N had demanded that the government should ban such mobile phone packages as young boys and girls were using them to indulge in "immoral" activities.
Speaking in the Punjab assembly recently, PML-N legislator Sheikh Allauddin said: "Boys and girls talk the whole night on mobile phones and these packages are destroying the moral character of our youth." The packages also came under fire in the National Assembly or lower house of parliament, with some lawmakers claiming they were against the moral values of Pakistani society.
On the other hand, cellular companies like Mobilink, Ufone, Zong, Telenor and Warid have reacted strongly to the PTA's directive and said the ban on packages provided during the day is beyond their comprehension.
A large number of people are availing of packages that allow them to call a selected number of friends and relatives at lower rates, officials of the mobile companies said.
"One wonders how these are contrary to the moral values of our society. On the demand of extremists, night and day mobile packages are banned. YouTube is already banned," said an official of a cellular company who did not want to be named.
"These extremists may demand a ban on Facebook and social media as well, as these are also considered by many in our society as instrumental to spreading obscenity," he said.
Pakistan's telecom industry is one of the most profitable in the world. In the past five years, the country has witnessed a boom in the cellular industry with the number of mobile phone users increasing dramatically.
A senior official of a telecom company said the PTA's decision is likely to further strain an industry already burdened with heavy taxation.