4G service still a far-fetched dream for Kashmir

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The internet shutdown in Kashmir after 5 August 2019 which earned the tag of “world’s largest internet shutdown”, has inflicted heavy losses on the local businesses community since last one year.

Ever since government of India abrogated the special constitutional status of J&K on 5 August 2019, the Valley has been deprived of high-speed internet as authorities maintain that 4G internet service has a role in “law and order problems”.

Despite desperate appeals from traders, students and people from all walks of life, the 4G service has not been restored and seems unlikely to be back anytime soon.

According to Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI), which has estimated a whopping Rs 40,000 crore loss to Kashmir economy post 5 August 2019, sectors that have suffered the most due to internet shutdowns are: tourism, information-technology, horticulture, e-learning, and healthcare.

Sheikh Ashiq, president KCCI said that lack of high-speed web access “is taking a toll on all the new age businesses which are completely internet dependent”.

“The chamber,” he said, “has highlighted the importance of 4G internet service before the government but to no avail.”

Interestingly, Kashmir’s urge to get 4G internet service restored, comes at a time when tech giants in many of the metropolitan cities across the country, are foraying into 5G internet services. However, the need for 4G service in Kashmir is not limited to the need of business but has a humanistic perspective.

In 2018, a study “The anatomy of an Internet blackout: Measuring the economic impact of internet shutdowns in India” conducted by Delhi-based think-tank International Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) had stated that people suffering from mental illnesses due to the strife in the Valley, struggle to get online psychiatric counselling due to lack of high-speed internet service and frequent internet shutdowns.

This problem has got compounded during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, when stress has become a norm and more people are reaching out for medical help to overcome the anxiety and trauma.

“I have been visiting a doctor for anxiety and depression for 8 years, which has increased due to the situation arising out of Covid-19. Frequent internet shutdowns and low speed of internet do not allow me attend proper online counselling. I was also hoping to download some informative videos but it takes a lot of time due to low internet speed,” says a middle-aged person, wishing not to be identified.

As per Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), Kashmir is a booming telecom market with a huge demand for data services. The COAI has thrice written to Union Telecom Ministry highlighting the importance of high-speed internet in the Valley. The Department of Telecommunications ( DOT), twice during last three years has pulled up Jammu and Kashmir government for suspension of internet service. However, even the chorus from the telecom industry has been unable to make a difference as 4G service suspension and frequent internet suspension continues unabated in the Valley.

Young IT professionals like Yafer Nazir are compelled to have a business set-up in cities outside the Valley due to the unreliable internet service here. “Recently when there was a complete communication gag, I shuttled between Delhi and Srinagar to ensure that my business does not suffer. 4G internet service is like oxygen in today’s age but we are being deprived of it,” says Nazir.

As a result of the frequent internet shutdowns, several IT companies in the Valley have shut shop or else moved their operations outside the Valley. Farmers and fruit growers say that in the presence of 4G, they were finding technology of a great help for weather forecasts and know about the modern-techniques of farming. “Last winter the untimely heavy snowfall in November took us by surprise. Usually our youngsters keep updating us about weather forecasts but last year the absence of internet shutdowns hit us hard,” says Abdul Majeed, a saffron grower from Pampore.

As problems arising due to the suspension of 4G service continues, people in the Valley are keeping their fingers crossed hoping high speed internet is restored soon.