New Delhi: The Jammu and Kashmir administration has said that existing restrictions on Internet connectivity in the Union territory, including capping speeds to slow 2G services, will continue till April 15.
In its latest order, the J&K home department has also devoted space to justifying these measures, which have come under criticism in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
More significantly though, in a departure from its earlier orders, which are often a bland recitation of facts, the home department has, this time, specifically stated that internet speed restrictions have not “posed any hindrance to COVID-19 control measures” or placed any barriers on accessing “online educational content”.
The order also notes that there have been “many instances of misuse of data services for incitement, including circulation of fake news” and that the new domicile law too has the “potential to be exploited” by those who want to harm public peace and tranquillity.
“Whereas, the internet speed restrictions have, while enabling access to essential services and sites, not posed any hindrance to COVID-19 control measure or to access online educational content, but checked the unfettered misuse of social media for incitement and propagating/coordinating terror activities,” the order notes.
As The Wire has reported, this may not be wholly true on the ground.
Doctors, healthcare workers and researchers have complained about not being able to access critical information about the novel coronavirus pandemic due to slow internet speeds.
“This is so frustrating. Trying to download the guidelines for intensive care management as proposed by doctors in England. It is as many as 24 MBs. It has been one hour…still not able to do so,” Iqbal Saleem, a professor of surgery at Government Medical College, Srinagar tweeted on March 20, referring to his inability to access intensive care management guidelines as the coronavirus pandemic spreads.
On March 26, a few healthcare providers and legal experts in the Union territory wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, asking for 4G services to be restored as it could help hospitals treat COVID-19 patients better.
“There are also reports that people are unable to share medical reports nor make video calls to health professionals to seek advice for their health issues. In the current COVID – 19 context, emotional and mental health support are very critical especially in a situation of physical distancing; communications are fundamental to stay in touch with families, friends as well as other support services that are necessary for people’s health and well-being. Moreover, health professionals who require regular supplies of protective equipment and gear are unable to access the same in time,” the letter noted.