Telecom group red flags Internet blackouts in Rajasthan

The Apex Advisory Council for Telecom in India (ACT), an advocacy group representing the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and incumbent service providers— Bharti Airtel and Reliance Jio— has said that the Rajasthan government was misusing powers to suspend Internet services in a sheer contrast with the Centre’s ambitious Digital India program.

In a letter to the telecom secretary, Aruna Sundararajan, dated August 8, 2018, seen by ETTelecom, the group sought immediate intervention, and said that there were nearly 50 instances of Internet suspensions in last six months in the state alone with more than 140 interruptions since August 2017.

The Vasundhara Raje-ruled state, according to the letter, is adversely impacting the Centre’s Digital India mission, and the frequent suspensions of Internet services were not warranted unless public safety was compromised.

Rajasthan, according to the statistics, has the highest number of Internet suspensions in the country after Jammu & Kashmir.

The regular Internet blackouts, however, is also considered as a loss of revenue opportunity for telecom operators as data consumption is growing rapidly and contributes to more than 50% of their consolidated revenues.

The lobby group said that such frequent misuse causes grave hardship to the public at large as they are deprived of all digital services such as net banking, booking of travel tickets, in addition to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s drive to promote m-governance, m-money and m-health services.

Meanwhile, the Rajasthan High Court on July 25, has given three-weeks time to the state government to file its response in respect to a petition challenging recurrent Internet suspensions in the state.

The Delhi-based lobby group also said that clampdowns were ordered by the Rajasthan government during various examinations such as for selection of teachers, Rajasthan Police Constable Recruitment Examination and Rajasthan State & Subordinate Services Combined Completive Examination 2018 – scenarios in which it does not require to exercise the emergency clause.

The state government, however, said the measure was in response to check ‘organized cheating’ during examinations.

Under the Indian Telegraph Act, the Internet shutdowns are ordered as per the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, 2017 that allows the Central and state governments to impose suspension of Internet services following “public emergency or safety”.

In a recent study by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), Internet blackouts for a total of 16, 315 hours or close to 680 days, from 2012-17 caused a loss of Rs 87,000 crores in India with sectors such as IT services, e-Commerce, healthcare and small businesses impacting the most.