Google loon may leave Sri Lanka, corruption accusation baseless: Harin

Google Loon Project

Image Courtesy: iLighter

Feb 16, 2017 (LBO) – Sri Lanka’s controversial Google loon pilot project may be withdrawn from the country as a result of a spectrum issue with the International Telecommunication Union, the telecommunications minister said.

Harin Fernando told reporters Thursday that Sri Lanka has so far delayed facilitating pilot tests by allocating the required spectrum of 700 MHz.

“Google is ready, but unfortunately in Sri Lanka things do not move the way that we wanted,” Fernando said.

The project initially got stuck at the TRC as the spectrum was not released for these tests. After several discussions with TV channels and telcos, cabinet approval was granted to allocate the required spectrum, he said.

Since Sri Lanka is a member of the ITU, there is a new issue about using the 700 MHz spectrum for this testing.

“Therefore, we have now referred it to the Attorney General to seek advice. That’s where it got stuck now.”

He further stated that the internet giant Google is now looking at another country, probably a country that is not governed by ITU to conduct their pilot tests.

“If we delay further we may miss the opportunity for Google Loon project. It might go to another country. Google is now looking at another country that I hear,” he stressed.

Fernando said that it is now mostly out of their hands, and the AG is looking at the legal aspects to deal with the ITU regulations.

ITU is currently not approving the allocation of 700MHz spectrum for high altitudes such as used in Google loon project as it may interfere with telco, TV and other signals operating in relatively low altitudes.

The ITU is to take up the issue of allocating 700MHz spectrum for high altitudes at their member committee in 2019, CEO of ICTA, Muhunthan Canagey said.

“I actually told President and the cabinet Google is looking at other options but I must say Sri Lanka has not invested so far with respect to this project,”

“The recent media reports about corruption of ICTA officials are baseless and we can prove it.”

On the 28th of July, 2015, an MOU was signed between ICTA, Google Loon and two of its affiliates Lotus Flare Holdings limited and Rama Co. for the purpose of formalizing working relationships and facilitating pilot project implementation.

Fernando said Rama Co. is fully owned by Chamath Palihapitiya and ICTA was not involved in the selection of anyone for the project.

He added that two representatives are working on behalf of Palihapitiya in Sri Lanka for this project.