Costly Communication

When the government banned internet and cell phone, it obviously created a situation that had clear losers and gainers, reports Zubair Sofi

Boys using wifi in Press Colony.

Boys doing piggybacking in Press Colony.

Internet was the first facility that government banned after Burhan Wani’s killing in an encounter. Soon, the mobile phones went off. It was a complete communication blockade that had gainers and losers.

Given the fact that 7.72 million people were using cell phone by the end of June, the impact of the decision was widespread.

Patients failed to contact their doctors. Students studying outside Kashmir initially faced the crisis of not getting in touch with their families. A few weeks later, they started crying for not having any money in their pockets and bank accounts. This situation led to some volunteer work in the plains. This helped in managing the situation to an extent.

“The day when the government made our cell phone number public, I started getting around 200 calls a day,” one Deputy Commissioner said. “I then set up a formal call centre and 98 percent of the calls were from students studying outside.”

Issue 12 Vol 07.indd

In the ban, there were losers. Seven telecom companies operating in the state have invested massively to create the infrastructure. They also have hundreds of people on their rolls to serve such a huge population of mobile users.

“Loss was about Rs 5 crore per day, but later voice calls were restored,” Subi Chaturvedi, Director Communication & Public Affairs at the Cellular Operators Association of India, said. “On a conservative side we can say that the loss was Rs 3 crs per day so for three months it is Rs 270 cr.”

The operators bled, literally. By the end of June, four major players Airtel, Aircell, Vodafone and Idea were having

3373404, 2633105, 1056570, 664262 subscribers, respectively. Cumulatively they had 7727341 subscribers of whom 185709 were added in June alone.

The communication blockade had its impact. By the end of September 2016, their cumulative subscriber base had fallen to 7077055, a fall by 650286 – a net fall by 8.41 percent.

Airtel, the market leader, lost 300538 subscribers in three months which makes it to shed 8.9 percent of its entire clientele.  Compared to its competitors, it still lost a bit of its market. With the loss of 224323 subscribers, the Idea lost more than one-third (33.77 percent) of its market. Even Vodafone lost 225227 subscribers which makes its 21 percent of subscriber base.

Interestingly, however, Aircel emerged a gainer. In such a crisis, this operator added 99802 subscribers thus improving its base by 3.79 percent.

Mobile-Towers-in-Srinagar-Kashmir

But there were gainers too. The biggest gainer was the BSNL, the state communicator who was left out of the ban. This was partially because the entire government machinery was using the BSNL service and its broadband.

Inherently lethargic but the credit goes to the BSNL for introducing the mobile telephony in Kashmir in 2003. But it failed to keep the leadership. In September 2004 BSNL’s monopoly ended with the entry of Airtel and soon race hotted up. Now, BSNL is No 4 in J&K market. Since September 2012, BSNL is not revealing its numbers unlike its competitors but it is presumed that lightly more than eight lakh in J&K use it.

During the crisis when the BSNL got the advantage as being the only operational network, people risked their lives to reach BSNL office to get a SIM card. Some even travelled to Jammu to get one. Some willingly became victims of the middle-men. There was a perpetual crowd seeking conversion of pre-paid into post paid, at a premium.

“In Kashmir, we had nearly 60,000 post-paid users,” one senior officer said. “This season we added one lakh more.” Every SIM card fetched it Rs 500 note.

This is in addition to nearly four lakh pre-paid clients in Kashmir. The government permitted post-paid services to resumed on July 26, and incoming facility on the prepaid numbers was restored a day later.


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