[AfrICANN-discuss] Indian 'Net Struggles to Meet Demand as Users Switch to Cellphone Access

Anne-Rachel Inné annerachel at gmail.com
Wed Oct 17 10:56:57 SAST 2007

INTERNET LAW - Indian 'Net Struggles to Meet Demand as Users Switch to
Cellphone Access
Kelly O'Connell, IBLS Editor
Monday, October 15, 2007

Question: What country is losing paid Internet subscribers, but adding
users? Answer: India, with the unusual distinction of being possibly
the only country in the world losing Internet accounts, as in the
second quarter of 2007 the number of tertiary users fell by 50,000.
Yet, more Indians than ever report going onto the 'Net to surf or
check email. How is this possible? Because, Net users are now
accessing through their cell phones.

But, since Internet access is easier, faster and more powerful on a PC
than cell phone, why is this transition occurring? Because, according
to analysts many users can no longer tolerate the frequent outages
occurring daily on the 'Net, caused by the outdated state of the
Indian Web infrastructure. In other words, when Indian users surf or
work online, the system frequently shuts off as the capacity cannot
keep up with the raw numbers online. It says something about Internet
connection speeds if a handset is more reliable than a tertiary
hookup, especially considering that Indian cell phones companies have
yet to feature 3G, that is - third generation cell phone technology
which allows Internet access at high speeds.

The largest Indian Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are the two
State-controlled concerns, the wholly state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam
(BSNL) and the half-state-owned Mahanagar Telephone Nigam (MTNL).
These two companies carry 50% of the country's Internet users, and one
of whom lost 3% of their 'Net subscribers. Overall, the trend emerging
was that many gave up on dial-up access, switching to broadband or
mobile phone, with 400,000 being deactivated for failure to access
their phone connections, despite being already signed up.

The Indian Internet slump highlights an interesting Asian
sub-continental dilemma. Given the fact that a new cell phone is
typically hundreds of dollars cheaper than a new computer, world 'Net
innovators are debating whether it makes more sense to try and provide
computers for the developing world for an access point. Nicholas
Negroponte and his One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) organization believe
PC's are the only way, but Qualcomm Chairman Irwin Jacobs insists it
is more realistic for the third world to get online with cell phones
that remove the necessity of laying untold miles of cable, when access
can be centralized in towers.

In the meantime, Google India has announced a search enabled mobile
service for what is soon to be the world's biggest cell phone market.
While there are currently only 30-40 million Internet users in India,
with over a billion residents, as the country becomes more prosperous,
that total will skyrocket.

The International Herald Tribune reports that one company, a
Facebook/MySpace copycat called Babajob.com, is now laying the
groundwork for the next Indian Internet revolution amongst the poor by
sending field workers out to interview residents of cities like
Bangalore to take the information and create personal profile to
assemble a giant social-networking website. These are people who
currently have no Internet access, and probably most have no online
experience, period. This activity will do several salutary things for
Indian 'Net usage. First, it introduces a previously insulated group
into the World Wide Web, showing them how easy getting an online
presence can be. But it also orients these people towards aspiring
towards the Internet as a communication, information, and socializing
hub. It will therefore cause the poorer Indian classes to begin making
economic calculations that include the Internet, even if it is going
online in an Internet café, as opposed to PC ownership. Finally, it is
an education in the modern world of technology, without which it might
be difficult to expect poorer Indians to change their lifestyles &
sacrifice precious resources for a budget item that perhaps previously
seemed bourgeois.

But it is impossible to contemplate how much the Internet will change
the lives of a large social class who, arguably, have more to gain by
making better economic choices than the upper classes. For example, if
a textile worker finds a similar job in the same industry, but that
pays an extra $25 a week, the impact on standard of living would be
much larger than if a member of the middle class got an extra hundred
bucks a month. Yet going onto an Indian jobs website is a novel means
of finding new jobs without spending the traditional days, weeks, or
months through the traditional means.

For these reasons, and more, India should be encouraged to revamp its
antiquated Internet hubs, even if this means privatizing these large
public companies. With a bigger-sized poor class, India will have much
more to benefit from the economic revolution that will occur when
their Web is modernized, in a manner that Adam Smith himself would
highly approve.

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