Project Loon: Indonesian ISPs want in on the action

  • Claiming discrimination, says Big 3 telcos already own 70% of the market
  • Industry pundit stresses Indonesian regulations disallow spectrum shifting
Project Loon: Indonesian ISPs want in on the action 

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INDONESIAN Internet providers are complaining about being left out of the recently-announced collaboration between Google Inc’s holding company Alphabet Inc and the republic’s three main operators – PT Indosat Tbk, PT Telkomsel Indonesia, and PT XL Axiata Tbk – to conduct a Project Loon pilot trial.
                                                                              
The Indonesia Internet Service Provider Association (Asosiasi Penyelenggara Jasa Internet Indonesia or APJII) alleged that local companies were being discriminated against, and demanded that the collaboration be extended to them as well.
 
APJII has about 430 members, with more than 200 of them being Internet service providers (ISPs), and the rest comprising companies providing access services of some sort, including network access points and Internet exchanges.
 
Saying that its members also have large customer bases, APJII argued that what they lacked was infrastructure, especially in terms of last-mile connectivity.
 
In its official statement received by Digital News Asia (DNA) on Nov 2, APJII, established 19 years ago, said that 70% of Internet traffic was already under the control of the big three companies of Telkomsel, Indosat and XL Axiata.
 
“APJII supports Project Loon, but we hope that after the pilot trial, we too can get involved, not just the three operators,” APJII chairman Jamalul Izza told DNA in a phone conversation.
 
The Project Loon pilot trial, scheduled to take off some time in 2016, was announced after an Indonesian Government delegation, which included the chief executives of the three big telcos, visited Silicon Valley and Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California.
 
Project Loon aims to provide Internet access to underserved and remote communities by using solar-powered high-altitude balloons that act as transmission towers.
 
According to Jamalul, in July APJII had asked Google directly about rolling out Project Loon in Indonesia, but at that time, the technology giant had given no indication that it would be made available in the republic.
 
“We regret that when we asked about the possibility of working together on Project Loon, there was no response from Google,” he claimed.
 
Arguing that the association supported the pilot trial, Jamalul however also said that he had expected that Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata, as members of APJII, to have spoken to the association first.
 
Project Loon: Indonesian ISPs want in on the actionAPJII has had discussions with a representative of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, who had agreed to involve association members in the next phase after the pilot trial, whether that was a second trial or the commercial phase, he said.
 
In statements about the Project Loon pilot, the three telcos had stressed that their agreement with Alphabet/ Google was on a non-commercial basis, and that business arrangements would only be discussed pending completion of the pilot.
 
Jamalul (pic) also said that APJII was willing to discuss the issue with the relevant Indonesian authorities to ensure its members get “equal access to Project Loon.”
 
“Those balloons should be made available to all APJII members to provide Internet access, not just the big three,” he said.
 
“Many APJII members operate only in big cities – if we got access, we can reach people in remote areas too,” he added.
 
Other objections
 
It was not only APJII members who were feeling left out, but also the smaller mobile operator PT Smartfren Telecom Tbk.
 
The head of its Smartphone & Data Device Division Sukoco Purwokardjono told DNA that although his company was unaware of the details of the agreement between Google and the big three operators, Smartfren was open to collaborating too.
 
“I have limited information about the project, and this only from media reports, so I cannot comment further,” he said.
 
Meanwhile, telecommunications industry observer Nonot Harsono said that APJII members who wanted in on Project Loon should be mindful of how it can benefit them, and more importantly, what role they can play.
 
He noted that under the current scheme, the roles of the various parties were very clear: “Google provides the infrastructure for Internet connectivity, and the three operators are responsible for reaching out to consumers in remote areas,” he said.
 
“Are APJII members going to commit to reaching out to those customers too?” he added.
 
Nonot said that any collaboration involving the other APJII members would also need the green light of Indosat, Telkomsel and XL Axiata because the agreement “needs to be a win-win situation for both operator and Google.”
 
Project Loon: Indonesian ISPs want in on the actionThe Project Loon pilot in Indonesia will make use of the 900MHz spectrum owned by Indosat, XL Axiata and Telkomsel.
 
“We need to know the legal basis for use of this spectrum,” Nonot (pic) said, echoing the views of other industry experts who pointed out that this may have to pass regulatory hurdles.
 
Google would provide Internet access by using the big three operators’ licensed spectrum allotment, but “Indonesian regulations do not allow operators to shift their frequency to other parties.
 
“There is the question of legal compliance – if it is solved, then each party can play its role in utilising Project Loon,” he said.
 
“Certainly, we do not want a repeat of the IM2 case,” he added, referring to Indosat subsidiary PT Indosat Mega Media, an ISP found guilty in 2013 of misappropriating the 2.1GHz frequency allocated to Indosat itself.
 
Both Indosat and its subsidiary IM2 were fined heavily by Indonesia’s Corruption Court.
                                                                                                                      
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Indonesia aims to beat Malaysia in Internet access by 2019
 
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