India to trial restoration of Internet access in Kashmir

But only to bits that aren’t conflict hot spots

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India has taken a small step towards restoring meaningful internet access to the disputed states of Jammu and Kashmir, by ordering a trial restoration of 4G services in select areas.

The region is disputed by India, Pakistan and China, but was governed by India as a semi-autonomous region until 2019. However in August of that year India revoked the section of its constitution that gave the region special status.

A month later the region was cut off from the Internet, an act India justified as improving security by preventing misinformation reaching residents. That's a reference to the fact that Kashmir and Jammu are the only regions India administers that have a majority Muslim population, and that locals have spent decades agitating for greater autonomy from Hindu-majority India. Protests have sometimes spilled into armed conflict, some of it between Indian and Pakistani regulars, some of it involving proxies who have conducted a lengthy insurgency and committed acts of terror. India alleges that Pakistan assists and promotes the insurgency.

Cutting off internet access may have had the intended effect of preventing misinformation, but it also cut off Kashimiris from their families and online services and stymied reportage on life in the region.

The details of the conflict are best detailed in pages beyond The Register. We’re on safer ground discussing the networking aspect of the matter, which after the September 2019 ban saw the restoration of 2G mobile services – top theoretical speed 384kbps – in March 2020. Access has also been allowed to a few hundred web sites.

Now India’s government has decided to test a further lifting of restrictions. In an affidavit [PDF] to India’s Supreme Court, the national government said it is happy for a trial restoration of services in one area of each state.

The government has not named where it thinks the trials should take place, but says the areas “should have low intensity of terrorist activities and minimal spillover effects on neighboring areas”. The trial zones must also not encompass disputed border areas.

The trials will commence on August 15th and be reviewed after two months.

Restoring 4G will benefit locals considerably , not least because scarcely a day goes by on which India does not emphasise the need to adopt e-government services. ®

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