Millennium Post

Flawed access

As celebrations ushered in on the occasion of country's 71st Republic Day, the Jammu and Kashmir administration notified the restoration of 2G internet in all districts with access limited to 300 "white-listed" sites. Providing 'controlled access' following more than five months of internet shutdown in a democracy will itself raise eyebrows, yet the former has been done in due process of bringing normalcy to the erstwhile state — now a new union territory. The Central government had reasonably defended its arbitrary step to place restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, citing it as a preventive step against the propagation of terror activities and circulation of misinformation. The Supreme Court had ruled that internet access is a fundamental right and acknowledged the government's arbitrariness, yet only a review of restrictions in place since August 5 was demanded. Restoring data services is the likely step that the government has taken but regulations in place only defeat the purpose of restoration. Reports cite how there has been a significant economic loss to the erstwhile state due to internet shutdown. Though no such 'analysis' of the economic loss due to Internet shutdown has been officially conducted, a member of the government's premier think-tank opined otherwise, obnoxiously stating that it was anyway used for 'watching dirty films'. It is very unfortunate to dismiss internet's multifunctionality living in present times. In a country where right down from prime minister to rickshaw pullers, a vast section of the population has access to the internet, the statement has been a careless remark in various capacities. But the law and order blanket under which Kashmir was deprived of the internet still serves as reason enough it would seem since not even the Supreme Court could order immediate restoration. The administration's step to restore internet with 2G connection is debatable. By user experience, it is well established that 2G connectivity does not serve as a very fast and efficient speed to surf the internet. With the country preparing for 5G launch, providing a relatively out-dated version of the internet connection does not fit the bill. Even if we restrict ourselves to deriving basic utility out of the internet, the so-called-restoration does not do much good. With 2G connection, booking a ticket, paying bills, watching videos, etc., will be a cumbersome process. And, that is just basic utility. While Netflix is a white-listed site that can be accessed now from the Valley, running movies on 2G was not a common practice for very obvious reasons. The very advent of over-the-top media (OTT) services such as Netflix, Hotstar, etc., was the prevalence of high-speed internet connectivity. Access with 2G largely seems to defeat the purpose of internet restoration. What only adds is the limited access — 300 websites. While 300 seems to be a good figure of accessible sites, it is the composition that matters. Reports of repeated listings and notable absentees in limited access only dampens the restoration step. The exclusion of social media websites like Facebook, Twitter, etc., even Youtube and WhatsApp along with Indian Express, Associated Press and AFP only rates the quality of restoration. Such access brings out the administration's apprehension over the Valley's situation, given the fact that limited access is to ensure law and order as already stated since the very start. Social Media has been black flagged with the potential to incite violence and fuel misconceptions, and selective inclusion of media websites invoke a sense of deceptiveness. Patchy and limited access to the internet only creates a limbo where both parties to it — the government and people — can argue indefinitely over the right to internet access. It is crucial to take cognisance of the incomplete restoration since it may only lower public sentiment in the Valley.

When a country acclimatised to 4G connectivity is utilising the internet for education, depriving Kashmir of it is a very debatable step. With apps like Unacademy and Byju's transforming India's learning paradigm and e-books, OTT services and digitisation revolutionising the way society utilises the internet, restoration of 2G services with white list access appears to be a mockery. It simply points to the fact that the government is not sure about the normalcy they ought to bring in the Valley. The drawback faced by lakhs of students in the new Union territory is outright unfortunate. In pursuit of bringing development, the government's necessary curfew to maintain law and order is costing the Valley on multiple fronts. It is true that law and order must take precedence but to what extent requires an answer. And, answers are rare; only actions will denote what lies in store. As we enter the age of the internet of things, we find a section of the population relatively living in the stone age. The only plausible explanation for that has been law and order.

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