Flights Of Fantasy
[ M Panging ]
Many areas of North East India have poor phone/mobile network and very poor internet connectivity. In fact, there are still large tracts of areas without mobile network. Lack of mobile network, along with absence of internet connectivity, leads to unavailability of useful applications like e-banking, e-commerce, WhatsApp, Instagram, and such. In areas where there is no/poor internet, it is not possible to book railway and flight tickets, and not possible to order items from Flipkart, Amazon, Myntra, etc.
However, during the last few years there has been an increase in mobile connectivity in many towns and cities of the region, with the BSNL having the most widespread presence. In fact, BSNL connectivity covers many rural areas as well.
In recent years, the BSNL has been facing stiff competition from private cellular networks like Airtel, Aircel, Vodafone, etc. However, the entry of Reliance Jio has slashed mobile charges for both voice and data across the mobile spectrum.
Though the mobile networks have increased their presence in many small towns also, the increase in network has not been matched by the performance of the mobile companies. In fact, call drops and call hang-ups are increasing in all cellular networks. The mobile networks are so congested that many calls do not materialize or drop in the middle of a conversation. Almost all the mobile networks advertise a wide variety of super capabilities, like ‘4G coverage’, ‘Unlimited data’, etc, but on most occasions the performance is not even that of 2G, with frequent call drops and hang-ups. There must be some minimum performance criteria for the mobile companies.
Lack of internet or poor internet connectivity leads to loss of many important applications required for day-to-day functioning in today’s digital era. Poor internet connectivity leads to loss of many banking hours/days due to link failure. In fact, many banks have readymade boards to display link failures. Poor internet connectivity further leads to loss of man-hours, trying to download or upload utility and necessary forms/returns like GST returns, Aadhaar documents, and income tax returns.
Lack of internet connectivity also leads to non-utilization of cashless transactions like debit/credit card usage in swipe machines, forcing the public to resort to cash transactions. Lack of internet connectivity leads to loss of business opportunities and stagnation of industries, trade and commerce. All this is leading to many areas of the North East virtually being cut off from the modern digital world.
It is puzzling that the telecom department is not a part of the state government’s responsibilities. Considering the criticality of the telecom companies in both voice and data, the government should consider telecom a state responsibility also.
In today’s time of digital, cashless transactions, e-banking, e-commerce, etc, mobile and internet connectivity is no longer a luxury – it is a critical necessity. Like many other services in the North East, will mobile and internet connectivity also remain poor? (The contributor is Retired Group Captain VM)