Where the internet gag is troubling the net users every time it is put in Kashmir, it causes financial losses to the telecom service providers operating in this region.
According to service providers they suffered over Rs 180 crore loss in three-month complete communication gag during 2016 unrest in Kashmir. “Now today’s order by the government suspending 3G and 4G services on mobile internet is again going to hit our business,” representatives of various companies told Kashmir Post.
“It is unfortunate that despite J&K having achieved a mobile subscriber base of 1 crore recently, such a gag has been put in place by the authorities. Kashmir is a flourishing telecom market and derailing the growth is an extreme step that will drag us into further losses,” an executive of a private mobile service provider said.
As per latest active mobile subscriber data available with Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), J&K had 1,12,72,751 cellular subscribers on December 31,2016.
In terms of individual company wise data available with TRAI, Bharti Airtel had 3505002 subscribers, Reliance had 949459 subscribers, Vodafone had 980533 subscribers, Idea had 623267 subscribers, Aircel had 2867502 subscribers at the end of 2016.
The state-owned BSNL had 1471105 subscribers, while Reliance Jio had 875883 subscribers as of December 31, 2016.
Another telecom service executive on condition of anonymity told Kashmir Post that despite the telecom sector having witnessed “a slump across India during last few months, this sector has been upbeat in the state and Kashmir especially.”
In an emailed query Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), an amalgam of GSM mobile players told Post Kashmir that the overall telecom industry in Kashmir suffered daily losses of Rs 2 crore during the period the calling and data services were suspended for 90 days amid the unrest last year.”
Pertinently, only post-paid services of state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) were operational during these months of communication gag.
Despite the state contributing a large contribution to the revenue of telecom companies, authorities have suspended internet services 29 times in J&K from 2012 to April 2017.
Usage of mobile service is not just restricted to data usage as more than 50 per cent of business transactions now-a-days are being carried out with help of credit/debit cards.
Spokesperson, Kashmir Economic Alliance, Farhan Kitab said in absence of high-speed mobile internet it is not possible for traders to operate point of sale (POS) machines which are used for payment through credit or debit card. “After the upheaval of last year, business is still in a struggling stage and now with the internet gag it is not possible to carry out the transactions through POS machines. This will affect the sales to a great extent,” Kitab said.
Meanwhile, BSNL broadband internet which is fully operational is providing the much needed help to internet users at a time when 3G and 4G services have been suspended.
In a reply to a recent Right to Information query BSNL had stated that the telco added almost 500 new subscribers every day during 2016.
It had informed that during the last one year (March 1, 2016 to Feb 28, 2017), 1,82,422 new subscribers including 91,249 pre-paid customers and 91,173 post-paid clients, at an average of 500 new subscribers every day, joined the BSNL network.
Interestingly, the suspension of mobile internet services in Kashmir comes days after the apex court of India had said that citizens have a right to internet access.
“It is ironical that when the Supreme Court underlined that citizens have a right to internet access, the mobile internet services in Kashmir have been suspended. This clearly shows that rules and laws don’t exist for us,” said Faheem, a student.