The return of internet cafes to Jammu
The prolonged internet ban in the Valley has paved the way for many intrepid businessmen as they set up internet cafes and other such facilities across Jammu city. Dozens of such facilities have cropped up over the past seven months, with mostly young men as their customers.
A group of youths are huddled together inside a shop, their eyes glued to their smartphones, in a bustling marketplace in Jammu. A dozen-odd criss-cross-backed plastic chairs and a small worn-out wooden table with a brand new modem placed on it is all the newly set up shop contains. The shop promises seamless internet service to its young customers. The charges are fixed - Rs 40 for an hour.
After the BJP government revoked the special status of Jammu and Kashmir last year, the authorities cut off all communication lines in Kashmir, while cellular data services were blocked in Jammu. Although the authorities restored low-speed internet (2G) in both Jammu and Kashmir divisions, with access to a select few websites in January this year, broadband and leased lines work only in Jammu.
The prolonged internet ban has paved the way for many intrepid businessmen as they set up internet cafes and other such facilities across Jammu city. Dozens of such facilities have cropped up over the past seven months, with mostly young men as their customers.
"I set up shop two months after the government barred internet services in Jammu and Kashmir. The customers here use wifi on their phones", says the owner of the shop
The internet cafe owners earn between Rs 1000 to 1500 a day. Many recharge kiosks and grocery stores have also started offering wifi connectivity, charging Rs 40 to Rs 60 per hour. Some of them have even come up with special offers for users. A handwritten poster put up on the glass door of a shopfront reads:
"For PUBG lovers we charge Rs 100 for a full day."
"This is a special offer for those who love to play PUBG. We also provide special discounts for students and our regular customers," says the owner of the shop, which also offers online utility services. Internet access, however, is provided only after a customer provides his complete contact details and ID proof.
The extended internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir has cost the business community dearly. According to the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industries (KCC&I), the Valley of Kashmir, where the ban was also imposed on broadband and leased lines, has suffered a whopping loss of Rs.1.47 lakh crores over five months since August 5 last year.
An office-bearer of a trade body in Jammu tells Asiaville that they have written to the Lieutenant General to form a "loss assessment panel" to gauge the extent of the losses suffered by the business community since last August. "Obviously the losses are huge, but we have no proper assessment. We have already shot off a letter to the LG to do this," he adds
A few food courts and coffee shops in the town have been wooing customers by offering them wifi connectivity. "If you eat and drink up to Rs 120, we will provide you free access to internet", is the offer on a sign at a small coffee shop located on Residency road.
However, some young internet users complain that the charges are arbitrary and that there is no check on the rates. "Here you have to pay Rs 40 for an hour, but if you visit another internet cafe located just a few shops down the street, you will be charged Rs 60 for the same," says 22-year-old Rahul Sharma, who is using wifi inside a cafe in the posh Gandhi Nagar locality.
With the advent of pocket internet, cyber cafes in Jammu had literally vanished. However, the nullification of the special position of Jammu and Kashmir marks their return in a different guise. These new cafes no longer house the old desktops with CRT monitors but facilitate direct internet access to the mobile phones of their customers.
"It seems a throwback to the late nineties as, again, crowds of young men show up at such places to use the internet," says 45-year-old Rakesh Gupta, a local businessman.