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House panel led by Tharoor will began J&K visit today

Jammu: The parliamentary committee on information technology, chaired by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, on Friday will begin a week-long visit to Jammu & Kashmir, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Chennai to assess the “overall functioning” of various government schemes and initiatives, including the Centre’s flagship scheme for easy internet access, BharatNet, and review the working of organisations such as Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), people familiar with the matter said.

The panel, comprising 31 members, will also review access to internet services in J&K, the people cited above added.

As per the report in The Hindustan Times quoting plan, the panel on Friday will meet representatives of the department of telecommunications in Srinagar to discuss the “overall functioning of BSNL and progress of implementation of various schemes… including BharatNet in the circle”.

BharatNet is the government’s flagship project that aims to provide easy internet connectivity to all 2.5 lakh gram panchayats in the country.

In the last decade, the country has seen an increase in frequency of internet shutdowns, usually for law and order, or security considerations as requested by the home secretary of the state or the central government. According to Access Now, a digital rights advocacy group, India saw the highest number of internet shutdowns across the world in 2020. Of the 155 shutdowns across the globe, 109 were in the country.

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“The government shut down the internet at least 109 times. While this figure is lower than the total in the previous two years, India had instituted what had become a perpetual, punitive shutdown in J&K beginning August 2019. The residents in these states had previously experienced frequent periodic shutdowns and in 2020, they were deprived of reliable, secure, open and accessible internet on an ongoing basis,” a report by Access Now said.

As a precautionary measure, internet services were suspended following the revocation of Article 370 of the Constitution on August 5, 2019. It was only after August 15 last year that the Centre gradually began easing restrictions on high-speed 4G mobile internet services in one district each of J&K divisions on a trial basis. In February this year, 4G services were entirely restored in the Union territory.

However, internet services in J&K were again suspended on Thursday following the death of separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani, as a precautionary measure to prevent rumours and fake news from circulating

It is within the mandate of the House panel to look at shutdowns with “suspension of Telecom Services/Internet and its impact” being one of its selected subjects. From Srinagar, the panel is expected to head to Mumbai to meet stakeholders from the department of telecommunications, the Maharashtra government and BSNL officials regarding BharatNet.

In Mumbai, the panel will also meet members of Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) and hold a review of its functioning.

The ministry of information and broadcasting is currently facing pushback from the film industry regarding a proposed amendment that allows the ministry to ask CBFC to review a film that has already been certified.

In Hyderabad, the panel will visit T-Hub, the country’s largest tech incubator. It will also meet state government officials to discuss the “digital payment and online security measures for data protection”. It will also undertake a review of the functioning of Doordarshan Kendras in the state.

The panel’s visit will conclude in Chennai with a visit to the Indian Institute of Technology, which is currently working on a domestic 5G test bed. In February, HT had reported that the committee, in a report submitted to Parliament, said the country is woefully unprepared to roll out 5G technology.

The government, however, has asserted that the rollout will begin shortly. In May, it allowed Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) to conduct trials for the use and applications of 5G technology.

“The applicant TSPs include Bharti Airtel Ltd., Reliance JioInfocomm Ltd., Vodafone Idea Ltd. and MTNL. These TSPs have tied up with original equipment manufacturers and technology providers which are Ericsson, Nokia, Samsung and C-DOT. In addition, Reliance JioInfocomm Ltd. will also be conducting trials using its own indigenous technology,” it said in a statement on May 5.


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