The National Access Point: The Dilemma of Vision

  • To: s-asia-it at apnic dot net
  • Subject: The National Access Point: The Dilemma of Vision
  • From: Zubair Faisal Abbasi <zubair at isb dot sdnpk dot org>
  • Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2000 12:36:17 +0500 (PKT)
  • Sender: owner-s-asia-it@lists.apnic.net
    • 
      The National Access Point: The Dilemma of Vision 
      
      by Zubair Fasial Abbasi
      
      While rest of the world including our neighbor is preparing to cultivate
      the benefits of Information Technology revolution, Pakistan
      Telecommunication Company Limited [http://www.ptc.pk] is nestling into one
      of the most regressive and myopic policies of control. In the news item
      published in the DAWN dated 13 July, 2000 with heading "PTCL Move To Block
      Internet Telephony item, PTCL claims to setting up a so-called NAP
      "National Access Point" under the garb of monitoring, analyzing internet
      traffic to block access to pornographic sites and for effective use of the
      Internet bandwidth including scrapping the Internet telephony option for
      the Internet users. 
      
      The ulterior motives of the 'factors' behind such a move may crop up with
      a simple click of common sensical thought. PTCL calls it "National Access
      Point" while, technically speaking, such arrangements are called "Network
      Access Point. This nomenclature hints towards something that rests between
      the lines. The difference between the two versions of NAP is not merely
      technical; it is a political question of vision and points towards what is
      lying in store for our society. 
      
      The fact is that such a monitoring and control over the flow of electronic
      data and information necessarily and potentially encroaches upon the
      fundamental human rights like "right to information and expression". It
      creates opportunities for a "politically motivated sniffing" into emails
      and other Internet packets. The most vulnerable to hi-tech vindication,
      along with other cross sections of civil society, are journalists, human
      right groups and "dissidents". It seems that the vested interests perhaps
      want to make use of this technology for blocking access to "undesirable"
      and "rogue" systems of message transmission under the politics of
      "national interest". Virtually leaving information consumers and the
      so-called citizens of Pakistan with "404 Error URL Not Found" sort of
      Internet packets. The whole episode of NAP is happening in Pakistan when
      comparatively totalitarian regimes like United Arab Emirates (UAE) are
      removing regulatory restrictions and allowing people to use direct
      satellite uplinks while completely bypassing the main Etisalat
      infrastructure.  One may say about PTCL, woe to the administrative set ups
      which move backwards while society moves ahead!
      
      As a matter of fact, it is practically impossible to effectively block
      "morally corrupt" and "politically (in)correct" sites from accessibility.
      Our national interests/visions are so wide and fluid that IP (Internet
      Protocol) and word-based controls are insufficient in catching up our
      whims. For instance, if PTCL chooses to block sites carrying word 'breast'
      it would necessarily block many of the medical related sites as well and
      if it starts controlling through IP (Internet Protocol) it is simply
      impossible to do it effectively with accuracy of results and 100%
      blocking. People may choose re-director sites like 'anonymous dot com' and
      other services for reaching them. It seems that the "morality" propaganda
      of PTCL is frivolous and nave in the potentially anarchic world of
      cyberspace. 
      
      On the technical front the proposal for establishing NAP is not without
      caveat. Reducing multiple pathways of networks to two gateways i.e., one
      in Karachi and the other in Islamabad, would provide easy targets for
      "info-terrorists" to ransack the whole apparatus of Internet connectivity
      in Pakistan. This is only a manifestation of sheer myopia fast engulfing
      the profit hungry monopolistic PTCL. How would PTCL be able to keep smooth
      sailing of NAP with the required level of technical expertise? The answer
      lies in the PTCL's questionable performance and expertise in managing and
      troubleshooting the half circuit bandwidth provided to Internet Service
      Providers. What should be done is to establish Network Access Point for
      interconnectivity between ISPs in Pakistan to avoid Internet traffic
      taking international route.  This would result in reducing unnecessary
      consumption of international bandwidth resources. However, this should be
      done in collaboration with ISPs both at the policy and implementation
      levels while respecting ISPs democratic right either to choose NAP or
      avoid it for routing the Internet packets. 
      
      On the revenue side, it seems that the PTCL's claim of revenue loss due to
      the Internet telephony should be taken with a pinch of salt. They present
      a net revenue loss figure of $ US 2.8 million per annum due to Internet
      telephony but, as a matter of fact, there is no credible mechanism to
      tabulate and claim with exactitude that the said loss is exclusively due
      to the Internet telephony. While PTCL is raising line rent and using other
      measures to mop up money from its telephone subscribers which would
      substantially increase its profits, it is not prepared to draw its hands
      away from grossly exaggerated $ US 2.8 millions per annum. It must be kept
      in mind that this amount is less than a fifth of a per cent of PTCL's
      total revenue. Is this the superhighway that promises to lead Pakistan to
      the vista of revolutions in Information and Communication Technologies? 
      
      It goes without saying, the NAP policy of PTCL will be harmful, if
      implemented ubiquitously for all ISPs making it mandatory for them to use
      the NAP. This will obviously discourage new investors in the IT field for
      providing satellite-based up-links for Internet Service Providers in
      Pakistan. The benefits of faster and reliable data transmission from
      direct up-linking will be lost in congested and blocked pipes of two NAP
      gateways. Result: the not-so-distant-Revolution Betrayed!
      
      In the present scenario and with "National Access Point" what PTCL can and
      help do is to "sniff" the chunk of Internet packets and play with privacy
      of users, and some "interests" may use the logs generated through proxy
      servers (acting as black box) for ulterior political purposes. Who knows
      whether PTCL and "others" will restrict themselves doing only the things
      that they claim doing? NAP is a dilemma of vision, in the final analysis.  
      
      - zubair fasial abbasi. 
      
      
      
      
      
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