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#DigitalInclusion: Andaman and Nicobar + Lakshadweep to get high-speed internet for the first time

Introduction

The smallest union territory with one hundred thousand islands, which is simply stunning as isolated, the Lakshadweep Islands lies 400km off the southwest coast of the Arabian Sea. Exploring the small islands, stopping to rest at pristine beaches, and observing the beautiful marine creatures swimming around you will be a simple pleasure and a lifetime experience. Another Union Territory with blue seas, Virgin Islands, and colonial past is simply unmatched with any other islands in the country. Tucked around 1400 km away from the east coast, dreamy beaches, warm seas, lush scenery, and endless sunshine are some of the top ingredients of Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Not to forget, apart from the thrill that you experience, you will also have to calm down your senses, which will be blown over by the scenic beauty of the region as you paddle through these islands.

But here comes a big problem. Do you remember the low-speed internet connection a few years back when we need to wait for hours to download a video? It was the time when YouTube videos buffered for minutes and then played. It was the time when we aspired to get a 3G network on our phones to download and upload smoothly. Would you be able to envision your life today when you get to have the same speed as we had a few years back? No, it will all be chaos for us. Our work-life will be shattered, and those deferrals won’t be good for us.

A similar situation existed in Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands (ANI) till 2018, until Airtel came up with 4G connectivity. Still, most of the small islands in these union territories are in an abysmal state when it comes to the Internet connection. Unfortunately, the COVID situation has even worsened the situation. After the nation-wide lockdown, people have even become dependent more on the internet. The inhabitants of Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been left handicapped as there is no reliable internet connection present over there.

It seems that for the past couple of decades, the government has turned a deaf ear to the innocent voices who are yearning for good internet connection. But as rightly said, the darkest hour is just before the dawn. Recently, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the optical fiber project for ANI on August 10, 2020 and on the occasion of 74th Independence Day, the PM set a target of 1000 days to provide submarine optical fiber connectivity to Lakshadweep islands.

Time for a change in need hierarchy

The traditional hierarchy of needs consists of three basic amenities for survival. They are food, water, and shelter. I agree with this list of essentials. But the 21st century demands some amendment now. High- speed internet is the need of the hour. There is no field of interest left today, which doesn’t need the requirement of the internet. In fact, internet has permeated into most of our day to day activities.

Almost all the states of India have a proper 4G internet connection. But, the two islands, Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep, still lags proper internet connection & is lagging behind almost all the States and Union Territories of India. Let’s dissect the situation in these Islands independently to get a general viewpoint of the condition prevailing at that point and now.

Lakshadweep Islands

The archipelago consists of 36 islands, out of which 11 islands are inhabited. Androth, Amini, Agatti, Chetlat, Kadmat, Kalpeni, Kavaratti, Kiltan, and Minicoy are significantly populated, and two others (Bitra and Bangaram) have very tiny or floating population. Lakshadweep Islands has an area of approximately 32 sq. Km. Its territorial waters extend to 20,000 sq.kms and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to 4,00,000 sq.kms, which makes the UT very important from the economic point of view.[i]

Telecom Scenario

Currently, Airtel and BSNL are providing services in the Kavaratti and Agatti area of Lakshadweep. At present, 352 Mbps satellite bandwidth is functional in the Lakshadweep islands and is soon to be upgraded to 1.71 Gbps by BSNL.[ii] Lakshadweep islands have basic mobile 2G and 4G coverage.[iii] However, the network is congested with no range in some parts.

Broadband service is operational in a total of 9 islands. The connection is provided through satellite medium, which has a very high-cost and limited bandwidth.

Permits & Licenses

There is a great load of headache in obtaining permits and licenses from Government and administrative departments for setting up a telecom infrastructure. The general requirements for survey and installation in India are as follows:

Permit in Principle (PIP)

  1. Local Body

 For the acquisition of lands, digging of roads, and laying out cables, and for any further developments planned in that area, the purchaser (ultimate owner of cable system) must have to take permission from the local administration.

  • State governments

For any information and permission, the purchaser must have to contact the state government departments with regards to Highways, Public Works (PWD), Fisheries, Electricity Board, Pollution, Maritime Board, Port & Mercantile.

  • National government

The Department of Telecommunication (DoT), Government of India is the nodal agency that controls and regulates the installation of telecommunication infrastructure in India. Ministry of Environment, Defense, and Home affairs also play a crucial role in providing information and permission.

All the permissions have to be taken by the ultimate owner of the cable system, who is the purchaser itself. The government departments do not entertain the requests of intermediaries like contractors, subcontractors, etc.

Operational Permit

Operational Permits should be applied in corresponding with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) Permit if they are not to postpone the advancement of the installation. Once the permission by MOFA has been received, reports can be submitted to MOFA for both survey and installation activities.

For cable laying operations related to offshore activities and onshore activities, there are different nodal agencies from whom the permissions are required.[i]

Offshore activities

  1. Government of India
  2. The Maritime Board- Jurisdiction- 12 Nautical Miles from baseline up to the High-Water Line.

Onshore activities

  1. The State Government IT Department- Nodal authority
  2. Ministry of Environment and Forests- Jurisdiction- High Water Line to about 200 meters.[iv]

Issues in present telecom activity

There are two major issues concerning Telecom activity in Lakshadweep Islands. First, the absence of reliable communication and second, the low bandwidth connection availability. It is costly and high latency in comparison to other communication media.

Challenges in developing reliable telecom infrastructure

These islands are falling behind in telecom foundation improvement due to their high satellite bandwidth cost, high cost of infrastructure as the transport to islands and reliable power supply, and troublesome geographic landscape, i.e., rugged terrain. The absence of transfer speed is a significant hindrance in providing data services, which is a pre-imperative for giving quality medical services, instruction, and banking to the masses and for the comprehensive development of society in general. So, to meet the expanding data transfer capacity, the satellite medium isn’t sufficient.

Factors that necessitates the need for reliable telecom connectivity

  • Economic growth

Living in the 21st century, we can’t expect or economy to grow without technology. Technology and digitalization go hand in hand. Internet connectivity is the backbone of digital India. Fishing and coconut fiber extraction is the primary source of income for the habitants of Lakshadweep Islands. Not to forget, tourism is also a significant contributor to the small Gross domestic product (GDP) of the islands due to its peaceful environment and scenic beauty. Lakshadweep being an isolated island, a reliable internet connection is the only way out to promote social integration and economic growth in that region.

  • Education & Training

With an excellent literacy rate of 91.8%, the Lakshadweep Islands[v], even in isolation with the rest of the Indian subcontinent, have managed to boost up the rate of literacy. But, COVID-19 has shown the government mirror and the need for stable for internet connection. Providing education and training through tele-education would ultimately boost up the Gross Domestic Product of the region.

  • E-governance

E-governance services since the past decade have helped the citizens to access government schemes and services very easily without any hassle. But a reliable internet connection is the need of the hour to avail these services.

  • E-commerce

For any e-commerce activity, a reliable source of internet connection is essential. Thus, having a stable connection over there would promote social integration as well as contribute to GDP.

  • Disaster Management

A reliable internet connection can help minimize the risk of natural calamities like Tsunami, Cyclone, and so forth. Thus, reliable telecom infrastructure is essential to manage these disasters during hard times.

Current scenario

On the occasion of 74th Independence Day, our Hon’ble Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi from the Red Fort itself set a target of 1000 days to provide submarine Optical Fiber Connectivity (OFC) to Lakshadweep Islands.[vi] There are a total of 1300 islands, out of which eleven islands (Kavaratti, Androth, Amini, Agatti, Kalpeni, Minicoy, Bangaram, Bitra, Chetlat, Kiltan & Kadmath and network architecture for submarine optical fiber connectivity for twelve landing points (Kochi plus eleven islands viz. Kavaratti, Androth, Amini, Agatti, Kalpeni, Minicoy, Bangaram, Bitra, Chetlat, Kiltan & Kadmath) are for rapid development.[vii]

Thus, OFC connectivity will help the people in the Lakshadweep Islands to get a cheaper and high-speed internet connection. Therefore, a reliable internet connection would boost economic growth, social integration, promote travel and tourism, and help youngsters in the learning process.

All things considered, a thousand days is quite a while, and for that, the government must find an alternative to reduce this huge gap. The Indian govt. must invite the private giants to set up a telecom infrastructure for this duration of time. Those giants may be unwilling to invest, but the government should make sure to give money out of their own pockets to provide a cheap internet connection to the inhabitants of the Lakshadweep Islands. 

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The ANI archipelago is the largest Union Territory of India, consists of 572 islands, out of which 37 islands are inhabited. North, Middle, and South Andaman Islands alone make up for 90 percent of the population, and others have a very tiny or floating population. Andaman and Nicobar Islands have a total scenario of 800 Km scattered North to South, lying in the south-eastern part of Bay of Bengal. Its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) extends to 3,00,000 sq.kms, which makes the UT very important from the economic point of view.[viii]

Telecom Scenario

On December 30, 2018, Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone for an undersea optical fiber project for Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is a 2300 km submarine- cable project which connected Chennai and Port Blair with seven other islands, which included Havelock, long Island, etc. The project was carried out by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) with the technical assistance of Telecommunications Consultants India Limited. (TCIL)

Out of the 37 inhabited islands, seven islands of ANI are connected, namely Swaraj Dweep (Havlock), Long Island, Rangat, Little Andaman, Kamorta, Car Nicobar, and Greater Nicobar have been connected using undersea optical fiber project. Currently, up to Port Blair, a speed of 400 Gb/s is being provided, and an internet speed of 200 Gb/s is being provided to other islands.[ix] Subsequently, there is an unprecedented change in the circumstance of ANI after August 10, 2020. Before August, a total of 15 islands had 2G connectivity, and three islands (South Andaman, Middle Andaman, and North Andaman Islands) had 3G connectivity. While the rest of the Indian subcontinent were enjoying the 4G connectivity, the people of Andaman and Nicobar Islands were battling with their internet speed.

Finally, a long wait came to an end when our Hon’ble Prime Minister, Mr. Narendra Modi, inaugurated the optical fiber project on August 10, 2020.

Need for reliable telecom infrastructure in ANI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while delivering his speech on Independence Day, mentioned that “Andaman aur Lakshadweep ko Dilli se aur Dil se Jodne ka lakshya hai.” It is clear from the statement that a stable internet connection will advance social integration and boost the economic growth of the region. Even being completely isolated from the Indian subcontinent, the main aim is to keep the ANI part and parcel of the mainland. The low bandwidth in the region makes it difficult for the students in ANI to access online infrastructure, which is an essential ingredient for the e-learning process. E-governance services by government and access to schemes become troublesome due to the non-availability of stable internet. ANI is often prone to natural calamities like tsunami, cyclone, etc. Non- presence of a stable internet connection would increase the risk of disaster.

It is clear from the above discussion that having a reliable telecom infrastructure would be fruitful for ANI as well as the Indian subcontinent. Now, the undersea optical fiber project, which has been in real life since August 10, would have a tremendous effect on the lives of the individuals living in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.

Conclusion

We often witness in our daily lives the irritation, the impatience we feel when the internet speed diminishes for a couple of minutes. It appears to be that our life has gone hold for those couple of minutes. Just try to imagine the situation in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep Islands, where there is such a low speed that makes it difficult to surf on the google search engine. Watching online videos is near to impossible to achieve. People have even been sustaining even in such an environment for decades.

But, finally, the trouble times are over. With the introduction of the undersea Optical Fiber Project or OFC, the whole scenario has changed. The high bandwidth and cheaper cost of optical fiber connection will ease the lives of the people. Universal access to education is not far now. This move is strategically as well as economically significant. Thus, this is a brilliant step taken by the Modi government and they truly deserve applause for this move.

This article can be cited as:

Bluebook, 20th edn.: “Prasam Jain, #DigitalInclusion: Andaman and Nicobar + Lakshadweep to get high-speed internet for the first time, Metacept – InfoTech and IPR, accessible at https://metacept.com/digitalinclusion-andaman-and-nicobar-lakshadweep-to-get-high-speed-internet-for-the-first-time/ .

References:


[i] Telecommunications Consultants India Limited, DETAILED PROJECT REPORT FOR CONNECTING LAKSHADWEEP ISLANDS ON SUBMARINE OFC (2019).

[ii] Telecommunications Consultants India T Limited, DETAILED PROJECT REPORT FOR CONNECTING LAKSHADWEEP ISLANDS ON SUBMARINE OFC (2019).

[iii] Telecommunications Consultants India Limited, DETAILED PROJECT REPORT FOR CONNECTING LAKSHADWEEP ISLANDS ON SUBMARINE OFC (2019).

[iv] Telecommunications Consultants India T Limited, DETAILED PROJECT REPORT FOR CONNECTING LAKSHADWEEP ISLANDS ON SUBMARINE OFC (2019).

[v] Telecommunications Consultants India Limited, DETAILED PROJECT REPORT FOR CONNECTING LAKSHADWEEP ISLANDS ON SUBMARINE OFC (2019).

[vi] Lakshadweep also to be connected with undersea optical fibre cable in 1,000 days, PIB (2020), https://www.pib.gov.in/PressReleasePage.aspx?PRID=1646111 (last visited Sep 9, 2020).

[vii] Telecommunications Consultants India T Limited, DETAILED PROJECT REPORT FOR CONNECTING LAKSHADWEEP ISLANDS ON SUBMARINE OFC (2019).

[viii] Telecommunications Consultants India Limited, Submarine OFC connectivity to ANI (2015).

[ix] Vanshika Malhotra, India’s first undersea optical fibre cable introduced in Andaman and Nicobar Islands: Know what is it English (2020), https://www.indiatvnews.com/technology/news-india-s-first-undersea-optical-cable-project-inaugurated-at-andaman-nicobar-know-details-641056 (last visited Sep 10, 2020).


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