Dubious freebie

- September 26, 2019
| By : Patriot Bureau |

WITH A promise to make India’s capital city entirely digital, the Delhi government led by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had announced in its manifesto before coming to power that it will provide free wi-fi service across the city. But that is still a work in progress and the wi-fi which Delhiites receive is via New […]

WITH A promise to make India’s capital city entirely digital, the Delhi government led by Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) had announced in its manifesto before coming to power that it will provide free wi-fi service across the city. But that is still a work in progress and the wi-fi which Delhiites receive is via New Delhi Municipal Council and Delhi Metro Rail Corporation.

“No one really cares about free wi-fi as long as a person has his own mobile data. Here at Rajiv Chowk the net being provided is too slow and the public doesn’t have much time for the procedure (mobile number and OTP registration) to be followed to connect — and that too for just 20 minutes of use,” says a student waiting for the Metro at Rajiv Chowk.

The freebie which AAP promised still seems to be a distant dream as only last month (August) the Delhi government floated a tender for the much-awaited project. The process seems to be on-going as the state Assembly election approaches. Meanwhile, the NDMC has provided free, premium wi-fi services at different locations in Delhi. A visit to some spots revealed that the services offered by the NDMC in collaboration with Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL) have very little to offer.

“If you connect your mobile to the NDMC’s wi-fi, it’ll be free for first 20 minutes and thereafter you won’t be able to connect for a month.We don’t know the technical reason behind this,” said Saroj, a seller of mobile covers at the N-block of Connaught Place. “I have been trying to connect for the last six months but there seems to be some issue. This is the same story with everyone, which shows that NDMC promotes the premium version.” “The public does use the free wi-fi as the consumption of internet has shot up since TikTok, Instagram, YouTube and PUBG came into the limelight. Hence, 1.5 GB data per day might not be sufficient for the user,” said Saroj’s associate at the shop. There were two free wi-fi services being provided at the Connaught Place, namely MTNL and Signpost, both working under the supervision of NDMC.

However, the speed of downloads and uploads varied during the day and night and the difference was stark. At noon, the MTNL wi-fi at CP gave a download speed of 31.6 Mbps while the upload speed remained at 13.7 Mbps. At night, the download speed plunged to 6.88 Mbps and the upload speed to 12.3 Mbps. The Signpost wi-fi was functioning swifter: streaming of videos and social media apps was quicker and more feasible as its speed hovered around 11Mbps during the night time.

Even if it were available, however, free wi-fi is not necessarily a good thing. Rakshit Tandon, Cyber Security Consultant- Internet and Mobile Association of India, told Patriot, “One has to be cautious while connecting to a free public wi-fi.” The biggest concern, Tandon said, “is most of the public wi-fi are unencrypted. That means whatever you do on the network, and whatever sites you visit, anyone can see and monitor those activities. Another danger is that a hacker can place an access point between the user and the public wi-fi connection, which can be used to steal sensitive information like credit cards number, passwords, etc.”

Detailing other threats, Tandon who is also the Director, Council of Information Security (CIS), says “Another threat can be injection of malware to your device via public network if your file sharing is enabled. In that case, malware can steal personal data from devices and redirect to hackers. Fake hotspots can also happen when a hacker sets up a hotspot in a public area with a fake name which resembles the real one like `Free Wifi_ Airport’ and trap innocent people to spy on their internet activity.”

The cyber expert gives a few tips to mitigate the risk of hackers targeting the devices. “Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which routes all your data through another server to help increase online security and privacy. Always use SSL Connection (HTTPS), the Secure Sockets Layer is a security protocol that encrypts data through the site you’re accessing. Keep wi-fi off on the device if not in use. Use public wi-fi for entertainment, news and watching videos — be careful with social media and emails.”

Unaware of these perils, Suraj, another vendor at the Connaught Place says, “Earlier people did use wi-fi. Excitement was seen when the NDMC first installed it one and a half years ago but as time went by, the speed and connectivity both backfired and most of the users lost interest in the free service.”

As of now, he says, “It’s tough connecting the NDMC’s wi-fi. If one gets lucky, then there is high possibility that it won’t work and a message will appear saying `Internet may not be available’ but it’s the Docomo wi-fi which gets connected only for 10 minutes and thereafter the premium version is required. These wi-fi services now serve emergency purposes only.” The premium wi-fi provided by the NDMC at CP costs Rs 100 for 15 GB, Rs 50 for 6 GB and Rs 10 for 1 GB. Yet most users across Connaught Place prefer using up their own mobile data rather than using NDMC’s wi-fi.

At the busy Rajiv Chowk Metro station, commuters cited `lack of time’ as a reason for not using the DMRC’s wi-fi. An exception to this rule was Deepali Srivastava, a journalist with Inshorts. She said that she is aware about the free wi-fi scheme of the DMRC and connects it whenever she gets time but more often than not, she doesn’t use.

“It does connect for a very few minutes and the speed is also slow. I always hope that maybe today the speed would be good but that is never the case; if they (DMRC) have to provide slow wi-fi, then it should not be given at all.”

Deepali raises a flag over the slow speed, saying “If a person doesn’t have his/her mobile data and needs to connect to the free wi-fi at Rajiv Chowk in order to search routes or anything else in emergency, then these free wi-fi hotspots are no use.”

The download speed of the free wi-fi being provided at the Rajiv Chowk Metro station was 9.64 Mbps while upload speed was 9.77 Mbps — yet sending a WhatsApp text was tough.

At Khan Market, the scene is different as the free wi-fi does not even connect, let alone allowing anyone to use it. Most shoppers use 4G mobile data being provided by Reliance Jio, Airtel or Vodafone- Idea and even shop owners avoid using it. A momo vendor says “Connecting to free wi-fi is quite a headache.” In this situation, checking out the speed was out of the question.

When Patriot reached out to the president of Khan Market Traders Association, Sanjiv Mehra, he said that all this free wi-fi thing is a”gimmick and a trick to fool everyone.” “NDMC facilitated Vodafone 5-6 years ago in Khan Market to provide free space to the telecom company as it offered free wi-fi to the public. It doesn’t work properly even for paying customers, so how can we expect it to work for free? This free wi-fi thing is a fraud, they just swindle the money,” says Mehra.

Detailing his reservations over the freebies, Mehra says, “I am never in the favour of anything which comes for free, whether its water, electricity or wi-fi because we don’t respect those things. My take is that let the companies charge for the wi-fi but at least provide better facilities.” “Earlier Vodafone gave us cards to avail the free wi-fi facility at the market but the idea failed very soon as no one would wander around shops looking for cards to get 20 minutes of free wi-fi; so these are all gimmicks by the companies to attract customers and sell their broadband connections. These are their tricks,” concludes Mehra.

At Sarojini Nagar and Lajpat Nagar markets which are under the supervision of NDMC and Municipal Corporation of Delhi respectively, no free wi-fi is available. A juice vendor says that he has been around for six years, and no free wi-fi is on offer. “If there were any such announcement, we would have known. Every shop like Levis, Bata has its own private wi-fi.” The Arvind Kejriwal-led Delhi government is planning to create 11,000 wi-fi hotspots across Delhi, wherein 4,000 will be at bus-stops, while the remaining 7,000 across various spots in 70 Assembly segments of the Capital.

CM Kejriwal, during a press briefing in August 2019 said, “This is the first phase of this project. This will be the largest free wi-fi project anywhere in the world. Once we complete the first phase, we will collate the learning from the experience and make provisions for additional hotspots if necessary, in the next phase. The wi-fi hotspots will be installed within the next 3-4 months.” Delhi CM further added, “The government will bear the operating cost of approximately Rs 100 crore per annum for providing 15 GB free wi-fi per month for all users.” Like free rides for women on Metro, this seems like a pre-election promise that is doomed to remain unfulfilled..