Internet access

Why we should welcome free Wi-Fi, even if it is a new-age political sop

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena created a free Wi-Fi zone in Mumbai this Sunday to outdo the Shiv Sena before Assembly polls. But experts say connectivity is good, whatever its origin.

For urban India, 2014 has been the year of free Wi-Fi. In January, Bangalore became the first city to announce free, government-sponsored wireless fidelity services, called Namma Wi-Fi, in five public places. In February, Patna followed suit, with the Bihar government creating a 20-km stretch free Wi-Fi zone in its capital city.

In the same month, the Gujarat government launched an ‘eNagar’ project that included creating eight Wi-Fi zones in Ahmedabad, and the Karnataka government announced wireless internet connectivity in five hotspots in Mangalore. The New Delhi municipal council joined in last month, announcing Wi-Fi services in Khan Market, Connaught Place and Karol Bagh that will be free for the first 15 minutes of use.

In Mumbai, with Assembly polls in October, it is becoming a political issue. On Sunday, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena launched two one-kilometre free Wi-Fi zones in the suburb of Vile Parle, in a clear attempt to outwit the Shiv Sena, its rival party in the state.

The Shiv Sena, under Uddhav Thackeray, listed free Wi-Fi for Mumbai in its 2012 manifesto for the city’s civic election, but has still not been able to get clearances from the municipal corporation to begin the service in the Shivaji Park area.

The MNS, headed by Raj Thackeray, has now stolen the Sena’s thunder by being the first political party to provide free Wi-Fi on public roads in Mumbai, even though the party is not in power either at the state or city level. The MNS has tied up with Orbit, a local cable operator, to provide the service, and is banking on advertisements to support the project financially.

“Free Wi-Fi is available in so many hotels, malls and restaurants today, and we wanted to do something for the city’s youth,” said Abhishek Sapre, an MNS party worker who led the public Wi-Fi project. “Today’s luxury is tomorrow’s necessity, and free internet is something that people expect from leaders these days.”

Modern Sop
For the MNS – as well as the other political parties in power that have jumped on the Wi-Fi bandwagon – free internet has become an attractive new sop with which to lure urban voters. With the new BJP government at the Centre, the idea of a ‘smart city’ that is digitally networked is gaining more popularity.

But should governments be treating internet access as a necessary service that they must provide for free alongside other infrastructure? In a country that lags behind in providing basic sanitation, electricity and education, how high up should internet connectivity be on the official priority list?

Most media experts believe there are social benefits to internet access that make it important for governments to provide it to the masses.

Digital Inclusion
“It is well documented that access to the internet can lead to the development of an entrepreneurial spirit among people, who are then able to generate avenues of self-employment,” said Pankaj Joshi, executive director of the Urban Development Research Institute, a non-profit think tank based in Mumbai.

For the past year, the Institute has been working on a ‘digital inclusion project’, an advocacy initiative to push for internet access to be made a part of Mumbai’s development plans.

“Having internet access opens up a whole range of new opportunities for people to participate in the social, economic and political life of the country, and thus to improve their own lives,” said Anja Kovacs, project director at the Delhi-based Internet Democracy Project, a research and advocacy initiative, in an email interview. Because internet access can be expensive, by offering free services, the government can create a level playing field, says Kovacs.

The Bihar government’s department of information and technology, which launched the Patna Wi-Fi zone, claims that the service is meant to improve access to knowledge for the youth.

“The zone we selected includes a lot of colleges and coaching centres, so that students can use it to access study material,” said Raj Ranjan, a government official in charge of the project. People are using it to access forms online, he said.

While the Patna Wi-Fi zone has been functional for four months, the Delhi service is yet to actively launch. Services in Bangalore and Ahmedabad have also begun, but the latter is still in the pilot stage.

“Political parties may want to score brownie points over each other through free internet services, but if they are becoming more citizen-centric through such initiatives, it is a welcome move,” said Nilotpal Chakravarti, associate vice president of the Internet and Mobile Association of India.

The only glitch, in a country like India, is the fact that very few people have access to devices like smart phones, tablets or laptops, even if they may be getting cheaper. “If the government really wants to provide equal opportunities for all, it should also establish public internet access points where the public can gain access through personal computers or laptops and get online for free,” said Kovacs.
We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Behind the garb of wealth and success, white collar criminals are hiding in plain sight

Understanding the forces that motivate leaders to become fraudsters.

Most con artists are very easy to like; the ones that belong to the corporate society, even more so. The Jordan Belforts of the world are confident, sharp and can smooth-talk their way into convincing people to bend at their will. For years, Harshad Mehta, a practiced con-artist, employed all-of-the-above to earn the sobriquet “big bull” on Dalaal Street. In 1992, the stockbroker used the pump and dump technique, explained later, to falsely inflate the Sensex from 1,194 points to 4,467. It was only after the scam that journalist Sucheta Dalal, acting on a tip-off, broke the story exposing how he fraudulently dipped into the banking system to finance a boom that manipulated the stock market.

Play

In her book ‘The confidence game’, Maria Konnikova observes that con artists are expert storytellers - “When a story is plausible, we often assume it’s true.” Harshad Mehta’s story was an endearing rags-to-riches tale in which an insurance agent turned stockbroker flourished based on his skill and knowledge of the market. For years, he gave hope to marketmen that they too could one day live in a 15,000 sq.ft. posh apartment with a swimming pool in upmarket Worli.

One such marketman was Ketan Parekh who took over Dalaal Street after the arrest of Harshad Mehta. Ketan Parekh kept a low profile and broke character only to celebrate milestones such as reaching Rs. 100 crore in net worth, for which he threw a lavish bash with a star-studded guest-list to show off his wealth and connections. Ketan Parekh, a trainee in Harshad Mehta’s company, used the same infamous pump-and-dump scheme to make his riches. In that, he first used false bank documents to buy high stakes in shares that would inflate the stock prices of certain companies. The rise in stock prices lured in other institutional investors, further increasing the price of the stock. Once the price was high, Ketan dumped these stocks making huge profits and causing the stock market to take a tumble since it was propped up on misleading share prices. Ketan Parekh was later implicated in the 2001 securities scam and is serving a 14-years SEBI ban. The tactics employed by Harshad Mehta and Ketan Parekh were similar, in that they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it to accumulate an obscene amount of wealth.

Play

Call it greed, addiction or smarts, the 1992 and 2001 Securities Scams, for the first time, revealed the magnitude of white collar crimes in India. To fill the gaps exposed through these scams, the Securities Laws Act 1995 widened SEBI’s jurisdiction and allowed it to regulate depositories, FIIs, venture capital funds and credit-rating agencies. SEBI further received greater autonomy to penalise capital market violations with a fine of Rs 10 lakhs.

Despite an empowered regulatory body, the next white-collar crime struck India’s capital market with a massive blow. In a confession letter, Ramalinga Raju, ex-chairman of Satyam Computers convicted of criminal conspiracy and financial fraud, disclosed that Satyam’s balance sheets were cooked up to show an excess of revenues amounting to Rs. 7,000 crore. This accounting fraud allowed the chairman to keep the share prices of the company high. The deception, once revealed to unsuspecting board members and shareholders, made the company’s stock prices crash, with the investors losing as much as Rs. 14,000 crores. The crash of India’s fourth largest software services company is often likened to the bankruptcy of Enron - both companies achieved dizzying heights but collapsed to the ground taking their shareholders with them. Ramalinga Raju wrote in his letter “it was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten”, implying that even after the realisation of consequences of the crime, it was impossible for him to rectify it.

It is theorised that white-collar crimes like these are highly rationalised. The motivation for the crime can be linked to the strain theory developed by Robert K Merton who stated that society puts pressure on individuals to achieve socially accepted goals (the importance of money, social status etc.). Not having the means to achieve those goals leads individuals to commit crimes.

Take the case of the executive who spent nine years in McKinsey as managing director and thereafter on the corporate and non-profit boards of Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, American Airlines, and Harvard Business School. Rajat Gupta was a figure of success. Furthermore, his commitment to philanthropy added an additional layer of credibility to his image. He created the American India Foundation which brought in millions of dollars in philanthropic contributions from NRIs to development programs across the country. Rajat Gupta’s descent started during the investigation on Raj Rajaratnam, a Sri-Lankan hedge fund manager accused of insider trading. Convicted for leaking confidential information about Warren Buffet’s sizeable investment plans for Goldman Sachs to Raj Rajaratnam, Rajat Gupta was found guilty of conspiracy and three counts of securities fraud. Safe to say, Mr. Gupta’s philanthropic work did not sway the jury.

Play

The people discussed above have one thing in common - each one of them was well respected and celebrated for their industry prowess and social standing, but got sucked down a path of non-violent crime. The question remains - Why are individuals at successful positions willing to risk it all? The book Why They Do It: Inside the mind of the White-Collar Criminal based on a research by Eugene Soltes reveals a startling insight. Soltes spoke to fifty white collar criminals to understand their motivations behind the crimes. Like most of us, Soltes expected the workings of a calculated and greedy mind behind the crimes, something that could separate them from regular people. However, the results were surprisingly unnerving. According to the research, most of the executives who committed crimes made decisions the way we all do–on the basis of their intuitions and gut feelings. They often didn’t realise the consequences of their action and got caught in the flow of making more money.

Play

The arena of white collar crimes is full of commanding players with large and complex personalities. Billions, starring Damien Lewis and Paul Giamatti, captures the undercurrents of Wall Street and delivers a high-octane ‘ruthless attorney vs wealthy kingpin’ drama. The show looks at the fine line between success and fraud in the stock market. Bobby Axelrod, the hedge fund kingpin, skilfully walks on this fine line like a tightrope walker, making it difficult for Chuck Rhoades, a US attorney, to build a case against him.

If financial drama is your thing, then block your weekend for Billions. You can catch it on Hotstar Premium, a platform that offers a wide collection of popular and Emmy-winning shows such as Game of Thrones, Modern Family and This Is Us, in addition to live sports coverage, and movies. To subscribe, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.