In our previous blogpost on the issue, we highlighted the difficulties which the people of Andaman & Nicobar Islands are facing with regard to being unable to access high-speed 4G internet. As a next step, we have written to the Prime Minister’s Office and the Department of Telecommunications highlighting the prevalent issues and providing certain recommendations. The main recommendations include the swift operationalisation of the CANI Project by the USOF division as well as providing the people of the islands with subsidies to ease the exorbitant tariffs that they are paying currently.
We wrote to the PMO and the DoT
As highlighted in our previous post on the subject, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands currently do not have access to high-speed 4G internet. This is because internet and telecommunication services in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands are presently dependent on satellite connectivity and have access to limited bandwidth. This has led to unreliable internet connectivity as well as extremely high tariffs with one individual getting a bill of 54,902 INR for their broadband connection. Such figures are unfathomable considering how affordable prepaid and postpaid plans for unlimited voice, SMS and data services have become commonplace in India, in the last 4 years.
These difficulties were going to be solved by the Chennai and Andaman & Nicobar Islands (CANI) Submarine Cable Systems Project however commission of this project has been consistently delayed. This means that even though the two segments are ready to be operationalised they have not been put into a working condition as of yet. The reasons provided are that initially the commissioning of these two segments got delayed due to the cyclone Amphan which hit Eastern India in May, 2020. Post this, the reason for the delay is said to be the COVID-19 lockdown with the timeline for the project now being extended a further six months.
Therefore we wrote to the PMO and the DoT highlighting the plight of the people of the islands and made the following recommendations:
- The USOF division of the DoT must implement the CANI project according to pre-existing timelines, and if they are not able to do so they must make public the reasons for this. They should also then provide clear timelines in which they estimate the work will be completed. This should include an explicit last date by when the project is complete and a detailed timeline with expected benchmarks.
- BSNL and NEC must highlight if they face any regulatory hurdles, so that those can be worked on by the DoT and the USOF division, BSNL and local municipal authorities.
- Segments 1 and 6, which are ready for operationalisation according to DoT circular no. 30-174-7/2015-USOF-BB(Vol.IX) dated 24.04.2020, must start their trial period by commencing traffic testing. Any permission related hurdles which delay compliance must be resolved by the DoT expeditiously.
- Since internet and telecom services are categorised as “essential services” in various government orders therefore this issue must be given that level of importance by both central (DoT) and local authorities (BSNL, Andaman).
- In the interim, vulnerable populations should be provided with subsidised broad based internet based services/transaction opportunities at CSCs, kiosks, post offices, legal services authorities, cyber cafes, etc.
- Funds should also be allocated under USOF and national/state disaster relief funds for subsidised access to internet connectivity and internet enabled devices. This includes suitable subsidies for all current BSNL users on the islands. Special subsidies can be designed for students, healthcare workers and senior citizens.
Hear it from the people of the islands themselves
In the video below, we have collected accounts from the people of the Andaman & Nicobar islands themselves who have detailed the difficulties that they are facing due to lack of access to fast, reliable and affordable internet services.
4G v. 2G
In the video below, at 09:10 mark, Prateek Waghre from the Takshashila Institute explains how 2G speeds are especially harmful during the COVID-19 pandemic. This video was made in the context of the internet shutdowns in Jammu & Kashmir and we urge you to watch it in its entirety if you have the time.
On June 25, 2020, in an interview given by the CGM of BSNL, Andaman, it was disclosed that the migration to bandwidth from the CANI Project will start from July 1, 2020 in and around Port Blair and will take around 15 days to be completed. He said that 4G speeds will not be available due to non-availability of spectrum. Further, he said that high speed internet services in other parts of the islands are likely to begin from September, 2020 as per BSNL targets but may be further delayed due the pandemic. Most importantly, he revealed that there will be no change in the exorbitant tariffs which are currently being charged.