Comments /1531 Views / Friday, 17 February 2017 00:00
Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Minister Harin Fernando addresses the media yesterday along with Additional Secretary Sumitra Kannangara (left) and ICT Agency Chairperson Chitranganie Mubarak - Pic by Ruwan Walpola
The would be-breakthrough piloting of the innovative Google Loon project in Sri Lanka hangs in the balance with it awaiting clearance from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) after much time was taken by the local Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) to allocate spectrum for trials.
The status quo of the Google Loon project was made public yesterday by Tele communications and Digital Infrastructure Minister Harin Fernando who regretted the campaign to baselessly vilify the project orchestrated by certain sections of the media.
Contrary to reports, the Minister said that there had been no cost to date to the public or taxpayers over the proposed trials of the Google Loon project which aims to provide faster, reliable and affordable internet to all.
“We haven’t signed any commercial agreements or allocated long-term spectrum or issued a licence. We have been working only to facilitate a spectrum for trials based on a Memorandum of Understanding. If trials were successful only further steps would be pursued for long-term engagement,” Minister Fernando clarified.
He said that the Government was encouraging trials of the Google Loon project in Sri Lanka because of its far-reaching benefits since an increase in 10% internet penetration contributes to a 1.2% improvement in GDP.
The Minister also praised and defended the project initiator Chamath Palihapitiya, a Sri Lankan-born businessmen and investor based in the Silicon Valley. Appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena as Digital Ambassador of Sri Lanka, Palihapitiya played a pivotal role in getting the Google Loon project to Sri Lanka to provide universal connectivity to all Sri Lankans and help the digital transformation of Sri Lanka, Minister Fernando said. The venture floated by Palihapitiya for Google Loon trials and future investments is Rama Corp.
Admitting that certain parties were opposed to Google Loon trials and the project in general, Fernando said the Government and the ICT Agency (ICTA) pursued the initiative considering the larger benefits to the people and its boost to Sri Lanka’s profile internationally as a destination for digital innovation. Granting the MHz Pair (10 MHz/10MHz) in the 700 band spectrum required for trials faced delays at the TRC but this was eventually secured after much effort on the part of the Ministry and ICTA.
Thereafter the TRC, having sought clarification from the ITU, had informed ICTA that the required frequencies could not be released for the proposed test of Google Loon since ITU had certain reservations including possible regional sensitivities and not having a regulatory regime or framework for such trials or such a project.
Yesterday’s media conference was told that a paper titled ‘Facilitation of testing to implement the Google Loon Project’ was presented to the Cabinet by Minister Fernando on 5 January 2017. Pursuant to this the Cabinet recommended seeking the advice of the Attorney General. The Attorney General coordinated consultations in this regard with the participation of the Secretary of the Ministry of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure and senior representatives from both TRCSL and ICTA.
The media was told that the report of the Attorney General was to be presented to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Management chaired by the Prime Minister.
Given the delays and latest stalemate, the Google Loon project trials were first discussed with the Government two years ago. Minister Fernando said Google may be looking at other countries as alternatives. However, he said that Google was also making a case with ITU for its approval to start the tests.
In the course of the press conference, Minister Fernando lamented that certain sections of the media and the Opposition were waiting for Sri Lanka and the Google Loon trials and the entire initiative to fall apart and had taken it for a joke apart from making various baseless allegations.
“We have nothing to hide. This is not a shady deal but very beneficial to the people. The Government hasn’t spent a cent of taxpayers’ money on this nor have we sold the spectrum or signed any commercial contracts,” the Minister emphasised.
“Being the first to take on the innovative Google Loon project, we as Sri Lankans were trying to position the country as the best within South Asia for reliable and fast Internet thereby attracting more investments and companies to locate in addition to serving the people,” Minister added.
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