What could the changes to Google Play mean for Pakistani users?

The State Bank of Pakistan has suspended international service providers’ payments, temporarily halting Google Play Store services. Mobile users will not be able to use the store as of December 1, 2022.

Payments through carrier billing, done by the central bank, have discontinued after which service providers have paid $34 million in a year to international service providers. These providers include Google, Amazon and Meta.

Pakistani customers will now have to download international apps if they want to make payments through their credit cards or debit cards. That’s because the credit card facility is only available to a few individuals meaning that the majority of mobile users may be deprived of downloading apps from the Google Play Store.

On Friday, Pakistan’s Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication, Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), and four cellular mobile operators (CMOs) wrote a joint letter to the State Bank of Pakistan. The letter requested that the SBP reverse its decision revoking the Dollar Convertible Billing Mechanism for payment of dollar fees. The request was made because of the country’s liquidity crunch.

According to The News, Google services such as downloading apps will soon be unavailable. When talking to relevant authorities, they relayed that the outstanding payment of $34 million was due so their services for downloading of the Google App Store would no longer available if it wasn’t paid.

The four mobile operators sent a joint letter to the government, pointing out that the telecom industry is one of the biggest contributors to foreign direct investment. They also make significant tax and other payments.

The telecom sector can help expand Digital Pakistan’s agenda. We need to do our part for all social and economic sectors, so we need engagement, support, and facilitation from everyone to make this transformation happen.

The State Bank of Pakistan revoked the IT designation of telecom operators months ago, and has advised that all cases be routed to them from now on. As a result, mobile operators are facing delays in getting approvals for their various services. This disruption is impacting their business and customers because the company supports them through their IT and digital strategy, as well as managing operating requirements internally, servicing billing management, fraud management software, Office 365, robotics automation software, and software development. The company also manages payments related to digital advertising though big IT platforms.

Right now, the digital economy in Pakistan heavily relies on international service providers for cloud hosting, licenses for software/platforms, security features, and technical expertise. As a result, it’s difficult to upskill local workers to meet international standards.

All major digital platforms like Google, Amazon and Meta are impacted by not receiving payment and are likely to discontinue their services. This will be reflected in terms of less people being able to use a digital platform for things like micro-, macro-,
economy, education and medicine, due to the damage these platform providers are taking in regards to treasury bills and subscriber connection licenses issues.

Digital platforms will find it increasingly difficult to monetize content since the leading giants such as Google, Amazon, and Apple; which represent Facebook; continue to refuse their support. This will have a negative effect on brands and products that are trying to utilize this marketing channel.

As the letter states, most downtime of internet services due to a lack of payment is an issue that should be avoided at all costs.

The letter would conclude: “It is pertinent to mention here that we all understand the challenges of a struggling economy. We’re open to working with the SBP and will work with them in the Telecom sector. We’re already assisting them in this test.”

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