“The buzzword for the 21st century India must be Roti, Kapda, Makaan, aur Bandwidth.”
When the late NASSCOM chief Devang Mehta: one of the pioneers and soothsayers of the IT revolution in India made this statement; little took him seriously. The IT bubble which had grown to a burgeoning level had just bust, bringing down the stock markets and countless ‘dot-com’s with it. People were being ‘laid off’ by the thousands. Many an NRI returned seeking greener pastures at home sans globetrotting jobs. Analysts were foretelling doom almost on a daily basis. The crash had such vast repercussions that even free email services like Yahoo were either reducing mailbox sizes or going pay!
Seven years later, things couldn’t have been better. Today, the industry is almost at the pinnacle of success. The new wave of hope was brought about by a mammoth called Google, which with its repertoire of ‘free’ services, especially GMail & YouTube, literally conquered the World Wide Web! The web, finally had lost its elitist appeal, and became as ubiquitous as the erstwhile Ford Model-T!! The ubiquity of the web had a direct consequence: skyrocketing internet connections. Today, at least two-thirds of the US populace has direct access to the WWW. Of these, at least 54 % have a solid broadband connection, while a mind boggling 80 % of the office users have at least a T1 line to hit the web. The corresponding figures for our country, if publicized, could bring a drastic end to the current outsourcing wave. A measly 0.02 %( of the entire population), that is, if the DoT guys have got their stats right!!
Broadband in India is rather a joke that has been regularly doing its rounds all over the country. The raucous part of the joke is that, there are a plethora of Broadband Company ads, which beat the drums boasting about ‘speeds’ with rock-bottom rates ‘starting at Rs 50’. A minute-long talk with the smooth-talking customer-service executive would reveal that the bandwidth is 128kbps, and the user has 50 MB of free download every month! And, even 128 kbps is something of a mirage. Often the user gets speeds at around 64 kbps… (Wow!! Broadband speeds at par with dialup!!) And, mind you: kbps means Kilobits per second, so you get download speeds of 8 Kilo Bytes per second… Now you wonder why all the US companies outsource all their work to a country where there aren’t even reliable broadband connections!
A major factor behind the staggering lack-of-growth of broadband connections is the lack of awareness about broadband. In a country where not even half of the population is literate, let alone computer literate, the eye-popping figures of the U.S. seem out of reach. The penetration of internet has been inexorably slow over the years. People with dialup were too complacent to shift over to a reliable broadband connection in the beginning. Since the advent of broadband in India in the late nineties, it took some time for ‘broadband’ tariffs to come down to realistic levels. Interestingly, cyber pornography played a subtle, but significant role in fuelling broadband connections! It came as a welcome relief for the average Indian voyeur, who was all-the-more harried, spending those feisty hours before the CRT monitor waiting for his 3-minute Paris Hilton video to download!! Free (& obviously fast) downloads of Bollywood music & movies through countless online portals were just the icing to the Broadband cake.
Broadband is definitely not a luxury. It is the fuel for growth. It offers immense possibilities for telemedicine, cheaper phone calls, video conferencing, and what not! The US figures did not shower down from heaven just like that. It took a spirited private sector & a non-interfering government to attain the midas-touch. Ironically, we needed a wholly-government owned BSNL to drastically revive the broadband sector. When BSNL launched DataOne, its pioneer broadband service using ADSL2+ technology, many ‘a’ heart was thrilled! With speeds starting from 256kbps, it was, so-to-speak, the first true-blue broadband connection with rates starting from Rs 250 p.m. & luxurious download limits. Again, it took another spirited decision from BSNL to increase the base capacity of all connections to 2 Mbps, to give the private broadband service providers a run for their money. Post that change on the 1st of January, 2007, almost every private sector broadband service provider today has at least a couple of plans offering 2 Mbps bandwidth.
Not all is well with DataOne either! Often, the user has to wait harrowingly for about 2 months or so after booking to get his connection ‘delivered’. Travails of being a PSU, perhaps… T
his scenario reminds one of the earlier ‘wait’ for a lone landline connection, which could even run unto years! The only solution to the broadband problem essentially is the freeing of more bandwidth. True that BSNL did usher in the true broadband revolution. However, the downplaying of Private operators can solely be attributed to superannuated government policies. As a first step, the government must stop laying its leg in the way of adding more bandwidth by reviewing its policies. A significant sum must also be invested in infrastructure, countering rapid technology-obsolescence. Only then can roti, makaan, & kapda stay hand-in-hand with bandwidth!