Dolts, free trade etc

Wonderful news on the internet and telecom front. A survey reports that internet users in India have dropped by 3 mn thanks (in part) to the government’s policing of cybercafes. Those who cannot afford their own computers and are unable to produce photo identity cards are thus denied access to the internet-

Blame it on the strict policing of cyber cafes following misuse by terror groups to send threatening emails and spread propaganda, as well as the poor progress India has made in broadband connectivity.

With cyber cafes making photo identity cards mandatory to access the Web, the number of cafe users more than halved to 2.2 million in January from 4.5 million a year earlier, said the study, India Online 2009.

According to Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), the number of cyber cafes in India has dropped from 235,000 in 2006 to 180,000 in 2008. The period saw a couple of large internet service providers —Tata Nova, which had 1,000 cafes, and Dishnet DSL, with 700 cafes — shutting shop.

“Many ISPs closed down because of the change in laws which prohibited them from offering VPN (virtual private networking) services under ISP licence,” ISPAI president Rajjesh Chharia said.

The country’s largest internet provider Sify alone closed down about 500 cafes in the last 12 months. “We had about 2,500 cyber cafes till a year back. Now they are down to almost 2,000,” Sify president for infrastructure Naresh Ajwani said. He said most franchisees surrendered their licences because of police harassment.

“During the internet boom, it was a sign of technological entrepreneurship to open a cyber caf‚ in a small town or village. Now it’s more of a stigma, with the local police visiting your shop every other day demanding a bribe,” an executive of an internet service provider said on condition of anonymity.

Also, one needs a no-objection certificate from local police to open a cyber caf‚ in most parts of the country. In Maharshtra, it requires the approval of local health department because there is the word ‘caf,’!

Not satisfied with this the government is demanding that telecom companies disconnect unbranded Chinese phones without IMEI numbers from the network-

Around 30 million mobile phones – or about 8% of all mobiles in the country – will become useless by the end of this month. These are unbranded Chinese mobiles that do not have IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) numbers and pose a serious security risk…

Under law, all GSM phones are required to have a unique IMEI number that gets reflected at cell phone towers with which, if required, the location of a mobile phone user can be tracked. These Chinese phones, however, show up as a series of zeroes at cell towers or by their cloned IMEI number. Either way, they can’t be tracked.

The CBI first pointed out the risk to the Union home ministry which took up the issue with DoT. In turn, DoT has instructed service providers to disconnect all phones without IMEI numbers. The service providers, according to DoT sources, have dragged their feet “despite the obvious security risk to the country.”

[…]

Security forces believe that, as it appears in the Mehrauli case, terrorists have taken to these unbranded Chinese phones to mask their movements. Currently, about 7-8 lakh Chinese phones come into the country every month. This figure was much higher before the talk of their ban started – in September 2008, 1.5 million of these phones came into India.

Naturally, not all of them are used by terrorists (only their easy availability makes them readily available). These phones are popular with consumers because of their low cost, often less than half the price of branded phones. That’s why service providers are seeking time to inform these users to change their handsets.

Guess who buys cheap affordable phones instead of the latest feature-packed Nokia or Motorola and don’t change their phones every three months so that they own the “in” thing? Those people are the ones that will be affected. Would it stop terrorism? Hardly.

A good article on the importance of free trade by a retired Professor of Economics.

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