According to the Inclusive Internet Index report 2021 released by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Pakistan ranks 90th among 120 countries. It is sad to note that we are just above the poorest of the poor nations on the index. This should be a point of concern for the government. We have succeeded in increasing the numbers of internet users; at least 42.2 percent of Pakistan’s population benefits from broadband services. Yet Pakistan’s poor performance in digital literacy and the inability to bridge the gender gap, are just two of the many stumbling blocks not allowing us to go completely digital.

In today’s world, no government can imagine growth, development and progress if citizens lack access to the internet. Developed countries and those on the fast track to development know this better. They constantly compete with each other in improving their ranking on the list. But the Pakistani state is unique in the way that our ranking has been falling for the third consecutive year, and there have been no steps to remedy this as of yet.

The government can reap great rewards for both itself and the Pakistani population by ensuring the availability, affordability, relevance and readiness of the internet. We must stop bringing in regressive policies regarding the digital space. In terms of access, the Punjab government could rethink its decision about closing down the free wifi spots; this would be just one step in many to try and allow for a larger and well-equipped userbase.

In contrast, one area where Pakistan is far ahead of many regional countries is the affordability of the internet. Since affordability is the most crucial factor, the government can improve its ranking in the remaining three categories. The only lacking thing is commitment on the part of the government. The state must incentivise internet companies to create a healthy competitive environment that will benefit ordinary citizens the most. While our digital population has indeed grown over the past few years, we still need to keep up our efforts to reduce the gap between on and offline users.