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Internet shut down in Kashmir valley just months after 4G was finally restored

The internet shutdown was confirmed using a distinct tool by an international watchdog that tracks net outages.

Internet has been suspended in Kashmir following the death of separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani on the intervening night of August 31 and September 1, Inspector General of Police (Kashmir zone) Vijay Kumar was quoted by ANI and Reuters as saying.

The internet outage was also confirmed by NetBlocks, a global internet monitor. This comes months after 4G services were completely restored in Jammu and Kashmir for the first time since 2019 when it was suspended before the abrogation of J&K’s special status.

Kumar told ANI and Reuters that the internet was shut down as a precautionary measure and restrictions in regards to the movement of citizens have also been imposed in the Kashmir Valley for the time being. MediaNama tried reaching out to Kumar, Baramulla DIG Sujit Kumar, Anantnag DIG Abdul Jabbar, and Srinagar DIG Amit Kumar. This report will be updated when we receive a response to our queries.

Mobile internet was shut around 12 in the midnight and then an hour late, broadband and fiber connection was suspended. Few hours later, calling and SMS service shut. Right now, there’s no way to communicate with the people there — Tanzeel Khan, a software engineer in Bengaluru with family in Kashmir told MediaNama

Khan said that only calling services from Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) was working in the Valley. However, he said very few people in Kashmir own a BSNL SIM card.

Confirming the development, NetBlocks in a report said, “Technical data show a disruption to access to India’s internet backbone from approximately 19:30 UTC Wednesday corroborating reported network restrictions, consistent with past recorded internet shutdowns in the region including the extended August 2019 Kashmir internet shutdown..”

NetBlocks said that the disruptions have had an impact on cellular and fixed-line services. “Connectivity in the region of Srinagar is indicated at 31% of ordinary peak levels, hence some service may remain available for certain users,” it added.

How does NetBlocks identify net outages? NetBlocks said it uses, what it called, “NetBlocks diffscans” which is able to map the IP address space of a country in real time, and show internet connectivity levels and corresponding outages. Netblocks said that “purposeful internet outages” have a distinct network pattern which it observes to determine and attribute the root cause of an outage.

At a time when the internet is such an intrinsic part of citizens’ lives, a shutdown, either due to political reasons or as a security measure, causes massive disruptions and can be considered as a curb on freedom of expression.

Internet was only recently restored fully in J&K after 1.5 years

Internet shutdowns in India have been debated heavily ever since communication services were suspended in Jammu and Kashmir on August 4, 2019, a day before the Indian Parliament abrogated Article 370 that accorded special status to the state. 4G services were restored in parts of the Union Territory, nearly a year after it was suspended.

It was only at the end of January 2020, that fixed-line services were allowed to resume operation, while mobile data was restored to 2G speeds. Access was limited to a whitelist of 301 websites, and access to social media websites was enabled only in March 2020. Since then, two districts — Udhampur and Ganderbal — have seen the restoration of 4G Internet on a trial basis.

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Read MediaNama’s ground reports on the impact of internet shutdowns in Kashmir

We do not have data on internet shutdowns: India

Recently, the Ministry of Communications informed the Lok Sabha that the Indian government does not maintain data on internet shutdowns in the country since police and public order are subjects of the State.

Police and public order are State subjects as per seventh schedule of the Constitution and States are responsible and empowered to issue orders for temporary suspension of internet service to maintain law and order in the State or part thereof under the provisions contained in the Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017. Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has informed that records pertaining to internet shutdowns ordered by States/UTs are not centrally maintained by MHA — Minister of State for Communications Devusinh Chauhan

This refusal to furnish data on internet shutdowns came a few months after India signed a Group of Seven (G7) statement condemning among other things, “politically motivated internet shutdowns”, the Ministry of External Affairs had announced.

Internet shutdowns: A look at previous occurrences

  • In August, internet services in Shillong were suspended as incidences of violence were reported in the state following the death of a former militant.
  • In March, internet services were suspended in Bhainsa, a town in northern Telangana, in the wake of communal clashes. Mobile internet was suspended in the town to prevent people from sharing any content that could aggravate the situation.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs ordered telecom operators to shut down internet services in Singhu, Tikri, and Ghazipur in January 2021, for “maintaining public safety and averting public emergency” amid the farmers’ protest. Internet was suspended in these areas from 11 PM on January 29 to 11 pm on January 31. Telecom sources confirmed to MediaNama of having received the order from the Home Ministry.
  • The Haryana government shut down internet and SMS services in multiple areas in the state after clashes erupted between farmers and law enforcement agencies in Delhi in January. The shutdown was ordered in the districts of Sonipat, Palwal, and Jhajjar, and was in effect until 5 PM on January 27. The government claimed it was shutting down these services to curb misinformation about the clashes that could be spread via social media platforms or text messages.
  • Internet services were suspended in multiple areas of the National Capital Territory on January 26 in the aftermath of the clashes that broke out between farmers (protesting against the proposed farm laws) and law enforcement agencies. The order, issued by the Home Ministry, said that internet services were suspended at Singhu, Ghazipur, Tikri, Mukarba Chowk, Nangloi, and “adjoining areas”.
  • The Rajasthan government in November suspended mobile internet services in several parts of Jaipur district in wake of the ongoing Gujjar agitation. Mobile internet was shut down for 24 hours starting at 5 pm on November 2 in the tehsils (blocks) of Kotputli, Paota, Shahpura, Viratnagar, Jamwaramgarh, Phagi, Madhorajpura, Dudu, and Mojmabad. All internet services except for broadband services were shut down.
  • Rajasthan suspended internet in four districtsDungarpur, Udaipur, Banswara, and Pratapgarh — in September 2020, after violent protests erupted in Dungarpur district, the Hindustan Times had reported. Hundreds of tribal youths reportedly blocked national highway No. 8 in Dungarpur, demanding that over 1,100 unreserved posts of government teachers be filled with ST candidates.

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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