After the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) suspended $34 million in payments to international service providers including Google under the Direct Carrier Billing (DCB) service by telcos, mobile phone users could still download applications from the Google Play Store, but they would not be able to pay for them with their mobile balance.
The local media is reporting that Google will suspend all Play Store services on December 1, 2022 as a result of the SBP measure. This is not entirely accurate. Although users will be able to download the apps, they will not be able to pay for them except by debit or credit cards.
Another method for making such payments is Direct Carrier Billing (DCB), which involves using the mobile balance. This method was developed as a result of the lack of international payment methods for the purchase of various apps.
Aslam Hayat, Senior Information and Communication Technology regulatory expert and former Chief Corporate Affairs and Strategy Officer at Telenor, told Profit that freelancers can pay for some tools and apps by linking direct carrier billing with Google Play.
Due to the absence of a physical presence in Pakistan, these applications cannot be paid using other methods like vouchers or cash. Instead, users can use Mastercard or Visa credit/debit cards or DCB. Due to the fact that not all mobile phone users possess credit or debit cards, DCB is a useful service for such customers.
Direct carrier billing involves the mobile customer paying for the app from their balance with the respective mobile carrier, and the telco remits the aggregated amount directly to the app or through an intermediary after a certain period of time, as mutually agreed upon.
According to reports, the SBP has now prohibited these payments from telcos to international service providers like Google from being remitted.
“Any move regarding the blocking of payments under DCB will not only have an adverse effect on the data usage of the telcos, but will also negatively affect freelancers,” says Aslam.
It is estimated that $60 million in payments are made annually by the telco industry under DCB and other digital services.
However, official sources state that the telcos’ authorization for direct carrier billing was never revoked, and they were asked to re-categorize such payments. ‘Payments are made through a designated bank for broader IT services, including cloud services, under certain foreign exchange rules,’ a source told Profit. According to the foreign exchange manual, there were a number of activities for which payment could be made.
The source indicated that telcos have begun making payments for apps under DCB and under broader categories of IT services.
In response, the SBP wrote to banks instructing them to stop making payments for apps under DCB and reclassify them accordingly. In the case of broader IT services, payments are made in accordance with different rules.
Different rules apply to payments made for entertainment and gaming apps. It was not necessary to revoke the payments, they were simply re-designated,” the source stated. However, it is important to note that the SBP has used regulatory nuances to prevent dollars from leaving the country.
The SBP had delayed approvals for the opening of LCs when the ban on luxury items was implemented. However, LCs for the import of raw materials for the mobile phone manufacturing industry were not blocked.