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DAILY CURRENT AFFAIRS IAS | UPSC Prelims and Mains Exam – 12th December 2020

  • IASbaba
  • December 12, 2020
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(PRELIMS + MAINS FOCUS)


Peer learning exchange on fintech solutions held between India and Better Than Cash Alliance

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-II – International Relations & GS-III – Digital economy

In news

  • Recently, India and UN-Based Better Than Cash Alliance organized a joint Peer learning exchange on fintech solutions for responsible digital payments at the last mile.

Important value addition

Better Than Cash Alliance

  • It is based at the United Nations.
  • Created in: 2012. 
  • Launched by: United Nations Capital Development Fund, the United States Agency for International Development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Citigroup, the Ford Foundation, the Omidyar Network, and Visa Inc.
  • It is a partnership of governments, companies and international organizations that accelerates the transition from cash to responsible digital payments.
  • The Alliance has 75 members which are committed to digitizing payments.
  • The Alliance Secretariat works to digitize payments by – Providing advisory services based on their priorities; Sharing action-oriented research and fostering peer learning on responsible practices; Conducting advocacy at national, regional and global level.

Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan (CTDP) For North Eastern Region (NER) approved

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-III –Infrastructure

In news

  • The Union Cabinet has approved for provision of a Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) Scheme.
  • Under the scheme, Mobile Coverage in Arunachal Pradesh and two Districts of Assam (Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao) shall be provided under the Comprehensive Telecom Development Plan (CTDP) for North Eastern Region (NER).

Key takeaways

  • The project envisages to provide mobile coverage to around 2 thousands of uncovered villages at an estimated cost of about Rs.2,029 crore including operational expenses for five years.
  • The project would be funded by Universal Service Obligation Fund. 
  • The project is targeted to be completed by December, 2022.
  • The work related to provision of 4G mobile services in identified uncovered villages will be awarded through open competitive bidding process as per extant USOF procedures.

Important value addition

Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF)

  • Apart from the higher capital cost of providing telecom services in rural and remote areas, these areas also generate lower revenue due to lower population density, low income and lack of commercial activity. 
  • Thus normal market forces alone would not direct the telecom sector to adequately serve backward and rural areas. 
  • Keeping in mind the inadequacy of the market mechanism to serve rural and inaccessible areas on one hand and the importance of providing vital telecom connectivity on the other, most countries of the world have put in place policies to provide Universal Access and Universal Service to ICT.
  • India’s New Telecom Policy – 1999 (NTP’99) provided that the resources for meeting the Universal Service Obligation (USO) would be raised through a ‘Universal Access Levy (UAL)’, which would be a percentage of the revenue earned by the operators under various licenses. 
  • The Universal Service Support Policy came into effect from 01.04.2002. 
  • The Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act, 2003 giving statutory status to the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) was passed by both Houses of Parliament in December 2003. 
  • As per the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 (as amended in 2003, 2006 and 2008), the Fund is to be utilized exclusively for meeting the Universal Service Obligation.

Atmanirbhar Bharat Rojgar Yojana (ABRY) approved

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-III –Employment

In news

  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval for Atmanirbhar Bharat RojgarYojana (ABRY).
  • Objective: To boost employment in formal sector and incentivize creation of new employment opportunities during the Covid recovery phase under Atmanirbhar Bharat Package 3.0.

Key takeaways

  • If EPFO-registered establishments take in new employees without EPFO registration or those who lost jobs earlier, the Yojana will benefit these employees.
  • Beneficiaries / New Employees under the scheme would be:
    • any new employee joining employment in EPFO registered establishments on monthly wages less than Rs.15,000
    • EPF members drawing monthly wage of less than Rs.15,000 who exited from employment during COVID Pandemic from 1st March to 30th September, 2020 and is employed on or after 1st October, 2020.
  • Central Govt. will provide subsidy for two years in respect of new eligible employees engaged on or after 1st October, 2020 at following scale:
    • Establishments employing up to 1000 employees: Employee’s contributions (12% of Wages) & Employer’s contributions (12% of wages) totalling 24% of wages
    • Establishments employing more than 1000 employees: Only Employee’s EPF contributions (12% of EPF wages)
  • The scheme will be effective from October 1, 2020 and operational till 30th June 2021.

Related articles:


KLI Project: Provision of Submarine Optical Fibre Cable Connectivity

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-III –Employment

In news

  • The Union Cabinet has given its approval for Provision of Submarine Optical Fibre Cable Connectivity between Mainland (Kochi) and Lakshadweep Islands (KLI Project).

Key takeaways

  • The Project shall provide a direct communication link through a dedicated submarine Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) between Kochi and 11 Islands of Lakshadweep viz.
  • Those 11 islands of Lakshadweep are: Kavaratti, Kalpeni, Agati, Amini, Androth, Minicoy, Bangaram, Bitra, Chetlat, Kiltan & Kadmat.
  • The Project would be funded by Universal Service Obligation Fund.
  • The project will vastly improve telecommunication facility in the Lakshadweep Islands by providing large bandwidth.
  • The project is targeted to be completed by May 2023.
  • Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (BSNL) has been nominated as Project Execution Agency and Telecommunications Consultant India Ltd. (TCIL) as the Technical Consultant of the Project to assist Universal Service Obligation Fund, Department of Telecommunications.
  • The ownership of the asset under the project will rest with USOF, the funding agency, under DoT.

Related article:

  • Optical Fibre Connectivity to Andaman and Nicobar Islands: Click here

Important value addition

Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF)

  • Apart from the higher capital cost of providing telecom services in rural and remote areas, these areas also generate lower revenue due to lower population density, low income and lack of commercial activity. 
  • Thus normal market forces alone would not direct the telecom sector to adequately serve backward and rural areas. 
  • Keeping in mind the inadequacy of the market mechanism to serve rural and inaccessible areas on one hand and the importance of providing vital telecom connectivity on the other, most countries of the world have put in place policies to provide Universal Access and Universal Service to ICT.
  • India’s New Telecom Policy – 1999 (NTP’99) provided that the resources for meeting the Universal Service Obligation (USO) would be raised through a ‘Universal Access Levy (UAL)’, which would be a percentage of the revenue earned by the operators under various licenses. 
  • The Universal Service Support Policy came into effect from 01.04.2002. 
  • The Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act, 2003 giving statutory status to the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) was passed by both Houses of Parliament in December 2003. 
  • As per the Indian Telegraph Act 1885 (as amended in 2003, 2006 and 2008), the Fund is to be utilized exclusively for meeting the Universal Service Obligation.

Morocco Normalises Relations with Israel

Part of: GS Prelims and GS-II – International Relations 

In news

  • Recently, Morocco and Israel have agreed to normalise relations in a deal brokered by the USA.

Key takeaways

  • It makes Morocco the fourth Arab country, after the UAE, Bahrain (Abraham Accords) and Sudan, to normalise relations with Israel.
  • Morocco will establish full diplomatic relations and resume official contacts with Israel. 
  • Embassies shall open soon to promote economic cooperation between Israeli and Moroccan companies.
  • Morocco intends to facilitate direct flights for Israeli tourists to and from Morocco.

Related articles:


(Mains Focus)


ECONOMY/ GOVERNANCE

Topic: General Studies 2,3:

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources.

PM WANI Scheme

Context: Union Cabinet has approved Prime Minister Wi-Fi Access Network Interface (PM-WANI). This is being seen as an attempt by the government to elevate wireless internet connectivity in the country.

Key Features of PM WANI Scheme

  • Public Data Offices (PDOs)  — comparable to a PCO or a cybercafe — will establish, maintain, and operate only the WANI compliant Wi-Fi access points to deliver broadband services to its subscribers.These PDOs will either provide internet on their own or will lease from some other Internet Service Provider (ISP). 
  • PDO Aggregators (PDOAs) will also be set up. These will perform the function of authorisation and accounting of the numerous PDOs.
  • The app provider will develop the app to register users and discover PM-WANI compliant WiFi hotspots nearby. 
  • A central registry will be set-up which will maintain details of all app providers, PDOAs and PDOs. The registry will be handled by the Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DoT).
  • A customer wanting to access the network from a PDO’s premise can do so only after an eKYC authentication.

Do You Know?

  • Service providers had in 2018 stated that they aimed to provide 5 lakh hotspots by March 31, 2019 and 10 lakh hotspots by September 30, 2019. However, these targets have not been achieved.
  • PM WANI Scheme that enables public wi-fi data service through small retail data offices can get many more people connected, just as long-distance telephony was expanded through STD public call offices over three decades ago.

Merits of PPM WANI Scheme

  • Unleashes Wi-Fi revolution in India: According to TRAI, in most major economies, 50%-70 % of the total usage time of mobile users is through WiFi but in India, this figure is less than 10%. PM WANI will help increase Wifi usage through increased presence of Wifi hotspots.
  • Enhances Quality of life: Internet access will connect a new wave of users not just to commercial and entertainment options, but also to education, telehealth and agriculture extension
  • Ease of doing business: Registration for PDOs will be granted within seven days of the application, else they will be deemed registered. Also, Communications Ministry has stated that no license fee will be charged for providing broadband internet services
  • Creates Employment and enhances Incomes: The scheme would enable small shopkeepers like tea shop owner to register online as a service provider which will boost their incomes as well as ensure our youth gets seamless internet connectivity.
  • Strengthens Digital India mission: The vision of Digital India programme is to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy. The Digital India programme is centred on three key vision areas – Digital Infrastructure as core utility to every citizen, Governance & Services on demand and Digital Empowerment of Citizens
  • Financial Inclusion: Bringing broadband Internet to remote locations at minimum investment, and giving subscribers the option of making small, need-based payments helps increase digital financial transaction across India particularly in rural areas
  • Boosts GDP: Three years ago, when TRAI outlined WANI plan and initiated the first pilot of a public wi-fi system on the WANI architecture, it noted that a 10% rise in net penetration led to a 1.4% increase in GDP.
  • Bridges Digital divide: A rapid scale-up of Internet in rural India will be transformative, given the low level of penetration — 27.57 subscribers per 100 population in 2019 – and wi-fi linked to broadband fibre service is the fastest route to achieving that.
  • Cost Effective way of Digital Expansion: Upcoming mobile technologies such as 5G may provide good quality data, but they involve high investment in new spectrum, connectivity equipment and regular subscriber fees. The WANI system offers an elegant way forward to connect low revenue consumers.
  • Entrepreneurship Opportunities: It opens up opportunities for community organisations, libraries, educational institutions, panchayats and small entrepreneurs to tap into a whole new ecosystem, purchasing bandwidth from a public data office aggregator to serve local consumers.

Challenges Ahead

  • Clash with Mobile Telecom Firms: Public wi-fi suffered neglect in past because it was seen as a competitor to data services sold by mobile telecom firms, rather than as the complementary technology it.
  • Safety and Security: There is huge expectation on provision of robust service, protection of data integrity, transparency on commercial use of data, and security against cyberattacks.
  • Ensuring Free Market: The government must also ensure true unbundling of hardware, software, apps and payment gateways in the WANI system, as advocated by TRAI, to prevent monopolies. Existing public wi-fi options run on a limited scale by some entities compel consumers to pay through a single gateway app, underscoring the need for reform

Conclusion

Executed properly, the public data offices (PDOs) of PM WANI can do what the PCOs did for phone calls, going well beyond ‘ease of doing business’ to genuinely empower citizens.


ECONOMY / GOVERNANCE

Topic: General Studies 2,3:

  • Indian Economy and issues relating to planning, mobilization, of resources.
  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

Antitrust suit against Facebook

Context: Two lawsuits filed by the United States federal government and governments of 48 US states and territories have put under the scanner the acquisition by Facebook of Instagram and WhatsApp.

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC)’s lawsuit accused Facebook of eliminating competition with the acquisitions — even though the FTC itself had approved the deals.

What does the FTC’s lawsuit say?

  • The FTC has alleged that Facebook “is illegally maintaining its personal social networking monopoly through a years-long course of anticompetitive conduct”. 
  • The lawsuit followed a “lengthy investigation” by a “coalition of attorneys general of US States”.
  • Facebook’s 2012 acquisition of Instagram for $1 billion and the 2014 acquisition of WhatsApp for $19 billion are being cited as attempts to illegally eliminate competition.
  • The FTC has also accused Facebook of imposing “anti-competitive conditions on software developers”. It says Facebook’s practices have harmed competition and left “consumers with few choices for personal social networking, and deprives advertisers of the benefits of competition.”
  • The lawsuit cites how Facebook restricted its “third-party software developers’ access to valuable interconnections to its platform” by exercising strict control over its application programming interfaces or APIs.
  • It gives the example of Twitter’s short video app Vine, which was introduced in 2013. Facebook shut down API access for Vine, effectively restricting its ability to grow.
  • Facebook’s monopoly over social media has resulted in “staggering profits” for the company, the lawsuit says.

What does the lawsuit say specifically about Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and WhatsApp?

  • The FTC has noted that the acquisition of Instagram came at a time when users were switching “from desktop computers to smartphones” and “increasingly embracing photo-sharing”.
  • With WhatsApp, Facebook did the same, the FTC says. When it realised that WhatsApp was “clear global ‘category leader’ in mobile messaging,” it bought out the competition.
  • According to the complaint, Facebook acquiring WhatsApp also meant that “any future threat will have a more difficult time gaining scale in mobile messaging”. 
  • This has largely been true. WhatsApp dominates the mobile messaging space, and currently has over 2 billion users globally; more than 400 million in India alone. No other messaging app comes even close

But FTC had approved the Instagram and WhatsApp deals.

  • Yes – but it says its “action challenges more than just the acquisitions”. It is “challenging a multi-year course of conduct that constituted monopolization of the personal social networking market”.
  • The FTC also says that it can – and often does – challenge approved transactions when they violate the law

And what does the FTC want?

  • The lawsuit seeks “divestitures of assets, including Instagram and WhatsApp”. 
  • So if the FTC wins, Facebook might be forced to sell Instagram and WhatsApp, two products that are more appealing to younger users and in new geographies, and are therefore crucial to driving the company’s growth.
  • The FTC also wants to “prohibit Facebook from imposing anti-competitive conditions on software developers”. This means Facebook will have to “seek prior notice and approval for future mergers and acquisitions”.

How has Facebook responded?

  • Facebook has called the lawsuits “revisionist history.” The company has said it is not true that it has no competition, and named “Apple, Google, Twitter, Snap, Amazon, TikTok and Microsoft”. 
  • The lawsuits ignore the fact that users can and do move often to competing apps
  • Facebook has also questioned the “attack” on its acquisitions, and recalled that the FTC had cleared the Instagram deal after an in-depth review. 
  • The WhatsApp transaction had been reviewed by the European Union as well.
  • According to Facebook, “Those hard challenges are best solved by updating the rules of the Internet.”
  • Regarding the API restrictions, Facebook argues that it is allowed to choose its business partners. YouTube, Twitter, and WeChat have done well despite these API policies, it says.

Conclusion

The unfolding of the lawsuit is being watched closely by the world as it has ramifications on the Big Tech Industry and also on the evolution of digital technologies.


(TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE)


Model questions: (You can now post your answers in comment section)

Note: 

  • Correct answers of today’s questions will be provided in next day’s DNA section. Kindly refer to it and update your answers. 
  • Comments Up-voted by IASbaba are also the “correct answers”.

Q.1 Which of the following sea/ocean surround Morocco?

  1. Atlantic Ocean
  2. Mediterranean Sea
  3. Caspian Sea
  4. Both (a) and (b)

Q.2 Which of the following Arab countries have recently established normal relations with Israel?

  1. Turkey
  2. Bahrain
  3. Qatar
  4. Morocco
  5. Sudan
  6. UAE

Select the correct code:

  1. 1, 2, 4 and 6 only
  2. 2 and 5 only
  3. 1, 2 and 3 only
  4. 2, 4, 5 and 6 only

Q.3 Lakshadweep comes under the jurisdiction of which of the following High Court?

  1. Kerala                                                                            
  2. Goa
  3. Tamil Nadu                                                                 
  4. Maharashtra

ANSWERS FOR 11th December 2020 TEST YOUR KNOWLEDGE (TYK)

1 A
2 B
3 C

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