Confusion over whether Google Loon Wi-Fi is free or a paid service
While on one side Google successfully launched its first test in Sri Lanka by deploying a ‘Google Loon’ balloon over the central province, on the other hand the general public and the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are confused as to whether it will be a free Wi-Fi service or not. When the Business Times contacted Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) CEO Muhunthan Canagey for clarification, he said, “Google Loon is not a platform to obtain free Wi-Fi for anyone in Sri Lanka. It will be free up to a certain limit and will be charged when you exceed that limit.”
He also noted that the end user of Internet from Google Loon will not be directly connected to it. The service will be provided via the ISPs who will be able to obtain direct signals from the Loon. Searching on Google website and some other applications connected to google will be provided free for the end user but the ISP’s will have to pay a minimal amount. Mr. Muhunthan also mentioned that Google’s first balloon landed under safety standard operating procedures in Sri Lanka as a part of the test. A Google operations team, ICTA and Air Traffic Control coordinated the successful landing. The balloon had landed in Gampola in an open tea estate on Wednesday, he added. When it landed in Gampola, residents had thought it was an Unidentified Flying Object and called the police before they had reached the venue.
LIRNEasia Founding Chair and Founder Director of ICTA, Rohan Samarajiva made a few comments about the Google Loon project. He said, “I am no fan of outmoded notions of national sovereignty. A fragmented Internet where local data storage is mandatory is not the kind of Internet I prefer”. The Google Loon project is expected to offer easily-available Wi-Fi across the country and connected for instance through ISPs like Dialog or Mobitel with some part being free and the rest charged. Some IT industry officials have raised concerns that a free flow of information could be detrimental and invade the privacy of persons, etc. In response, Prof. Samarajiva said that, “No one is upset when another submarine cable lands on our shores. Why object to some other way of moving our data into the Internet cloud?”
He also stated that if Sri Lanka were to rip out the existing cables and become solely dependent on Loon, there could be a concern. “But as far as I know, there is no such intention. We know from our research that it is critical to bring down domestic and international backhaul costs if we are to connect more of our people to the Internet. What’s wrong with looking at options other than fiber optic cables?” he noted. On whether it the Google Loon Wi-fi will be free or not, he said, “Everywhere it says free Wi-Fi, in shopping malls, food courts and elsewhere. But it doesn’t mean free at all, it’s added up to your bill by the end of the day on the things you buy. It’s not free, someone is paying for them. When someone says ‘free’, people think it’s free and go behind everything thinking that it’s free, but it’s not”.