Srinagar, India —
After being successful in curtailing the use of Virtual Private Network (VPN) applications by making a majority of them useless with newly installed firewalls, telecom operators are hopeful about the restoration of high-speed mobile Internet services in the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.
On Friday, Reliance Jio Infocomm Limited installed a firewall and blocked most of the popular VPN applications being used by its subscribers. On Saturday, Bharti Airtel among other telcos followed suit, prompting the users to search for VPNs which might bypass their firewall.
“The process hasn’t really ended. It will take us some more days to make the firewall fully operational so that VPNs are blocked,” an official from a telecom company said while requesting anonymity.
He added, “Now, we are hopeful that the authorities will decide in favour of the restoration of high-speed Internet. Perhaps, we might hear the good news after the next review meeting, slated for February 24, is held.”
However, the mobile Internet subscribers expressed mixed thoughts after a majority of VPNs stopped working.
Adil Nabi, a B.Ed student from Pampore area, said, “This is both good news as well as a bad one. We can now expect the restoration of 4G Internet services which is like a dream come true. But, we might not be able to access social media which is something disappointing.”
“Why is it that the authorities are pressing the operators to block access to social media platforms? In fact, these people need to seriously consider the utility of such brazen attempts to curb our freedom of expression,” Abdul Hamid, an entrepreneur based in Pulwama, said.
Aarav Raina, from Reasi, says, “I want the government to restore 4G Internet services as soon as possible. I do not need access to social media.”
While the news of installation of a firewall by the operators was circulating on social media, some users contested the claim.
“No firewall can block thousands of VPNs out there. I am commenting on this post now through a VPN only,” Shahid Baba, a Facebook user, commented on one such post.
Waseem Ahmad, another user wrote, “The telcos should provide uninterrupted Internet services for which they charge us. If someone misuses the services, he should be taken to task and not the entire population should be punished collectively.”
It is in place to mention here that the administration in J&K decided to extend the restrictions on high-speed mobile Internet services while allowing 2G Internet services with access limited to whitelisted websites only.
In an order issued here on Saturday, the Jammu and Kashmir government said: “It has also been reported that attempts have been made to disturb the public peace by spreading rumours to incite the general public over the last week which reinstated temporary suspension on the mobile data for limited period of time by the authorized officers.”
The notice also directed people with Internet access not to misuse it for uploading “provocative material inimical to the interest of the state”.
Pertinently, telecom services were snapped in the erstwhile State of Jammu and Kashmir on August 05, 2019, when the Centre abrogated its special status (Article 370) and also bifurcated it into two Union Territories-J&K and Ladakh.
However, the Supreme Court criticized the UT administration for arbitrarily shutting down the Internet and described the facility as a fundamental right.
Following the apex court’s orders, a review meeting was held in which the decision regarding restoration of 2G mobile Internet services was taken.
Now, the operators are hopeful of restoring high-speed mobile Internet services in the UT but it needs to be seen how things pan out in the coming days. The next review meeting, which is now a weekly affair, will ultimately take the final call.
Note: Some names in the story have been changed on the request of respondents.
Also Read: Prolonging the Political Winter in Kashmir