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Wider internet access slowly returns to J&K after 7 months

Wider internet access may return to Jammu & Kashmir, a circular issued by the state’s home department indicates. This may only be temporary though; the circular is only valid for two weeks — it will have to be reauthorized after March 17. The circular says that postpaid mobile connections will get internet at 2G speeds while broadband connections will continue to be restricted. Prepaid connections are allowed, but will require the kind of KYC verification usually done for postpaid connections.

“If there is no white or black list with the government’s order, it means every website can be accessed now,” the Economic Times quoted Vijay Kumar, Kashmir’s Inspector General of Police as saying. Another unnamed senior police officer confirmed to Greater Kashmir that social media would not be blocked.

After the Supreme Court judgment directing the J&K administration to review the internet restriction, a select set of 153 websites were whitelisted for access. Later, a second whitelist of 301 websites was published. Of those 300 sites, only a few more than a third were even practically accessible, research by Rohini Lakshané and Prateek Waghre showed. The government cracked down on citizens who tried using VPNs to get around the restrictions. A third whitelist of over 1,600 websites was later released, but it is unknown how many of these sites are accessible on a 2G network.

Rights activists and international human rights bodies have decried the communications blackout. A bipartisan group of US senators wrote to Mike Pompeo, the Secretary of State, last month, expressing concern ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit to India.

Timeline of events

  • August 2019: Internet access and phone connectivity shut down across Jammu & Kashmir, political leaders arrested
  • September 2019: Landline connections restored a month after the total communications blackout
  • November 2019: Home minister says internet will only be available when local administration thinks the situation is conducive to it, Businesses who agree to a list of restrictive conditions get fixed line internet, but only on one device
  • January 2020: Supreme Court orders review of restrictions on access, a small list of 153 (and then 301) websites accessible again to mobile internet users. List later expanded to 1,674 sites
  • February 2020: Government cracks down on VPN users who try to access sites outside the whitelist

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

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