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Muhunthan Canagey Pic courtesy: Readme.lk

The provision of wi-fi internet services through Google’s Project Loon is not going to be afforded to consumers ‘free of charge’ once the project is in full flow post-March 2016, the Managing Director of the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA), Muhunthan Canagey told The Nation Gain in a recent interview. Canagey’s comments came in the wake of a misinformation campaign doing the rounds especially by a section of government representatives that Sri Lanka will benefit from ‘free’ wi-fi services as a result of the Project Loon.

“The agreement is not for testing but for live commercial deployment. Once Google is done with the successful rolling out of the 13 balloons expected to be complete by March 2016, Google will engage in discussions with local mobile telecom operators and discuss the revenue-sharing agreements for the provision of the wi-fi services,” Canagey said.

He explained that telecom operators who were at present not providing internet services to the most-remotest areas in the country due to commercial non-feasibility (high investment costs involved in laying out the infrastructure but comparatively low demand) are expected to take advantage of the Google’s balloons and expand coverage.

The ICTA MD however noted that the internet balloons expected to provide connectivity across the entire country will trigger a drastic reduction in both data and voice call charges whilst Sri Lanka will benefit from a doubling of broadband speeds, where a minimum download speed of 10 Megabytes per second could be expected.

“Estimates show that when you double broadband speeds, it will result in the country’s economic growth rising by an additional 3%,” Canagey, one of the country’s youngest entrepreneurs told in a keynote address made at the Economic Summit 2015 held last week.

“Instead of spending many years and even more zillions of dollars laying cables, Sri Lanka and Google will put the Internet in the air, floating 12 miles above the Earth, and beaming down connections to every town and village.”

“This is Project Loon’s first mass deployment, after trials in New Zealand and Brazil. On June 28th, Google signed an agreement with the Sri Lanka government that will let local telcos connect to the balloon network,” foreign media reports said.

Meanwhile, Australia-based cnet.com reported that the inking of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) means both sides will only explore the possibility of testing Google’s high-flying balloons in the country, but nothing has been finalized.

Amidst the confusion over the conditions listed out in the MoU signed with Google, informed sources told The Nation that the reason why both parties did not a make a formal disclosure in the form of a joint statement had been due to ‘protocol’ issues.