The Jammu and Kashmir government restored 4G internet services in the districts of Ganderbal (Kashmir) and Udhampur (Jammu) on August 16 at 9 pm on a trial basis, the government of Jammu and Kashmir announced in an order on August 16. The restoration will remain in force until September 8. Internet speed in other districts will remain restricted to 2G. PTI and India Today reported on the order first. This move will bring 4G internet back to more than 8.5 lakh people in the union territory.

Post-paid subscribers will have access to the internet as per their district, but pre-paid subscribers will have access to the internet only if they are verified as per post-paid norms which include a police verification. There are no speed-related restrictions on fixed-line internet connectivity which is available with Mac-binding. Mac-binding essentially means that a device’s MAC (Media Access Control) address (a hardware identification number) and its IP address are bound together so that all requests from that IP address can be served only by the computer with the particular MAC address.

This order has been issued in accordance with the Central government’s submission to the Supreme Court on August 11 and the subsequent Supreme Court order as per which it said that 4G internet can be provided to one district each in Jammu and Kashmir after August 15 on a trial basis, provided that neither of the chosen districts was adjoining the international border or Line of Control (LoC). This decision was taken in the third meeting of the Special Committee which was convened on August 10 though the Centre had not revealed the identity of the two districts to the Supreme Court, or that two such districts had actually been identified.

The order does not mention if the impact of this trial will be assessed by the State Level Committee or when its outcome will be assessed. The Centre had told the Supreme Court on August 11 that the State Level Committee would assess the impact of the trial at least once every week, and the outcome of this trial will be assessed after two months. We have reached out to Shaleen Kabra, the principal secretary to the government in the Home Department of Jammu and Kashmir.

Parliamentary Committee had discussed internet shutdowns

The issue of internet shutdowns in the region was discussed at length by the IT Parliamentary Standing Committee in its last meeting on August 11. While the Department of Telecommunications and one member of Parliament argued that the region already had internet, but at low speed, others argued that the internet was important to exercise free speech and conduct business, both of which are guaranteed by Article 19 of the Indian constitution. The MPs also questions the DoT over whether or not it had complied with the Supreme Court’s directions in the Anuradha Bhasin judgement but the Department did not give a satisfactory answer. Questions were also raised about routing decisions through the Union Home Ministry when law and order is a state subject.

Internet services were suspended in the state on the midnight of August 4, 2019, a few hours before Article 370, that granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, was abrogated and two new union territories — Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh — were established instead. Since then, certain services have been resumed, but the Jammu and Kashmir government has repeatedly passed orders to extend restrictions on internet speed in the region. The absolute internet shutdown was lifted in January 2020 as the government whitelisted a couple of hundred websites on 2G speeds. All websites were unblocked on March 4, but speed remains throttled to 2G.