Google project in the balance | Sunday Observer

Google project in the balance

19 February, 2017
Minister Harin Fernando
Minister Harin Fernando

Google is looking at another country to pilot the Google Loon Project due to the negative impression created about the project in Sri Lanka, Minister of Telecommunication and Digital Infrastructure, Harin Fernando told journalists at a media briefing to clarify and clear misconceptions which have been in circulation in the media during the past year.

The Google Loon Project is an innovation spearheaded by Google to extend Internet connectivity to rural and remote areas of countries. The Memorandum of Understanding to formalize the working relations and facilitate the implementation of the pilot project was signed between the Information Communication Technology Agency (ICTA), Google Loon LLC and two of its affiliates Lotus Flare Holdings Limited and Rama Co on July 28 2015.

The project has been in the back burner for over one and half years due to delay in securing the 700 MHz spectrum from the International Telecommunication Union of which Sri Lanka is a member.

The project currently is being dropped off from Google’s radar due to the dilly dallying that has been taking in Sri Lanka for a considerable time since its launch in early 2015. The Google Loon project is being perceived as one that has hit a snag due to technicalities that have been overlooked prior to launching the project aimed at widening the broadband penetration in the country.

When journalists pointed out about the waste of time and the absurdity in embarking on a project without sorting out issues the Minister said it’s unfortunate that Sri Lanka is not destined for good things of this nature that will benefit many and put the country on the global spotlight for innovation.

“Those who are critical about the project are the ones who want to grab the attention of the country for a few seconds through the media. They have no idea as to what the project is all about,” the minister said.

He said all we wanted is to have a quick win by trying are hands on a new project. What is wrong in trying something which could either success or fail. There is nothing secret about the project.

“We have been transparent and open to criticism. Any one could clarify matters and we are ready to respond to them.We have not entered in to any commercial agreement with Rama Co., a company owned by Chamath Palihapitiya who mediated to bring the Google Loon project to Sri Lanka.

“Palihapitiya is the founder and managing partner of Social Capital, a venture capital fund based in Palo Alto, CA. He is also the longest tenured member of Facebook’s senior executive team who helped it to be among the leading entities in the world.

“Had the project worked, Sri Lanka would have been the first to launch such a project .in the world and be ahead of other investment destinations in the region,” the Minister said. He said, there have been many things told about the project and me. “The project has become a joke and some call me balloon Harin. The government has not spent a red cent on the project. The country would have been a beneficiary of the project.

“Many including those in the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission did not want this project to take off. If 10 percent of Internet penetration could be achieved through the project the GDP would grow by around 1.2 percent,” the Minister said. He said the next stage of the project is to allocate a spectrum for the project. The test reports are to be released soon. Things are not moving at the pace we expect.

“However, this year will be a vital year for ICT development and by the third quarter this year the country will see the results of the initiatives of digitization,” the Minister said. Despite the number of Internet and mobile service players the Internet penetration is around 30 percent and smart phone penetration is around 36 percent in the country.

“I would prefer if the number players in the mobile telephone sector could be scaled down to around three for a population of around 20 million.Currently there are five players in the mobile telephone sector,” he said.