Airtel, Reliance lobbying against Blackberry
By Rishikesh N
Although telecom secretary Siddharth Behuria has ruled out an immediate ban on Blackberry services, it could still be enforceable if the issue is not resolved soon. The issue on hand is that Blackberry has to allow Government of India security agencies to access the information, whether email or SMS. Currently, all Blackberry emails and text messages are encrypted and the information is hosted in the US and North America, the company does not grant anyone access to it, citing consumer privacy.
The department of telecommunications (DoT) has given research in Motion (RIM) the company offering Blackberry services, fifteen days to give government the access to algorithms needed to decrypt messages or bid goodbye to its hopes in India.
So, how real are the government's concerns about security?
The issue came up when Tata Teleservices cried foul after being denied permission by the home ministry to launch this service. It pointed out that rivals like Airtel, Reliance, Vodafone and BPL were already giving Blackberry services to their customers since 2004. Currently, there are more than 400 thousand Blackberry users in India.
Another set of telecom policy makers were raising the point about why Canada based RIM did not worry about the issue earlier considering that India and China are different markets as compared to North America and US. "Look at Google- and how they cut back on some content that spoke of certain malpractices existing in the media and entertainment," says a senior government official. He cites the example where Google had to concede to the demands of the Indian Government on the issue of Google Earth, which had to withdraw certain maps pertaining to India's defence.
Others are of the view that Airtel and Reliance senior officials had a word with government officials on how Blackberry is getting away with literally everything. Incidentally all of them offer Blackberry services. Airtel and Reliance are looking at additional revenues from the enterprise segment (if the service where to be hosted by local companies in India) since average revenue per user that the telecom service provider gets is falling with each passing day.
There are two factors are play here. The Indian Government is genuinely concerned about its national security requirements to monitor any email system used by terrorists. Airtel and Reliance also see this as a possible business opportunity as any ban on Blackberry would mean their companies could step in and supply an India-developed similar service. Both Airtel and Reliance have some of the best engineers and Research and Development teams, and it would not take them more than a few months to develop a desi Blackberry service.
Meanwhile, RIM is in a dilemma –whether to risk integrity of its technology or lose the lucrative Indian market. All the signs are that a compromise will be reached with RIM allowing Indian intelligence to have access to some emails.