NET.COLUMNS: Where do we go from here?

A number of you wrote in last week saying I was being too pessimistic
about the Internet in India, and that one should not talk only about
the problems but also present solutions. I thought I had presented
these in the past columns:

Little has changed in the past few months: even the Internet
privatisation policy drags on. Bits and pieces are leaked out
or stated at public fora. Something whichwas going to be announced
by October-end is now expected be in place by mid-January.
This is another example of the ills of the Indian Internet: time,
which means everything on the Net, has little relevance for our
policy-makers. We do not need a policy, we need action; we do not
licencing, we need telephone lines.

But we are going to get a Policy and some kind of Licencing, whether
we like it or not. There will be money ranging from Rs 5-25 lakhs
which will need to be put up by ISPs as bank guarantees. The big
players aren’t even going to get into the market now: they will adopt
a wait-and-watch policy for some time before they decide. They are
all-too-familiar with the flips-and-flops of India’s telecom
policies. So, we will have a situation which will once again be of the
in-between kind: doesn’t take us back, but will not us take us forward
rapidly either.


What are the solutions then to this type of situation? I believe that
small entrepreneurs hold the key to the growth of the Net in India,
and that technology will overcome the policymakers. At a recent
symposium on the Internet for professionals at which I was a speaker,
the greatest interest was on how the net could be used to cut down
international phone costs through products like Net2Phone! People tend
to find their own solutions to problems. If the cost for 500 hours
appears too much, people share accounts. If multiple email IDs are
needed, then there is always Hotmail.

A simple 6-point plan for the Internet in India:

  • Allow private ISPs without any restrictions. Let VSNL compete with them.
  • Cut leased line costs by 50-70 pc
  • Premium Service for Businesses for Internet Access
  • Set up Internet kiosks across the country (a recent statement by the Telecom Commission chairman Mr Gokak states precisely this)
  • Treat the Internet as core infrastructure, and create a high-speed domestic network
  • Make an email address mandatory for all businesses wanting bank/FI loans

The last item might seem a bit radical, but unless we force businesses
to start using email, we cannot expedite the process of ensuring that
email becomes the primary means of communications. Forget the consumer
market for now: let us work on getting Indian businesses — small or
big — to start using email. The rest will follow.

The Internet will have a significant impact on messaging and
communications, and entrepreneurs will create their own
opportunities. The aim must always be to create a business which is
independent of government policy: this business is not necessarily the
backbone and access, but in value added services. Witness the number
of companies offering home pages on the Net in every city. In khoj, we
get more than 100 requests a week for addition of Indian URLs.

The impact of the Internet is going to be bigger than we can
imagine. Those companies and individuals which get in the race early
and can envision how the future will be impacted by this medium are
going to be the biggest beneficiaries. While the Indian Internet has
been slow and has had its share of problems, it has been one of the
most important developments in India over the past 3 years.

At IndiaLine, we have traced many Indian success stories in
All except one. Our own. Over the next two weeks, we will talk about
IndiaWorld and its three years of pioneering work on the Indian Internet.
The challenge in India is to rise above temporarily difficulties, create
solutions which work in the domestic context, think long-term and
build mindshare. As long as you are in the midst of it all, the
innovations will keep happening: your customers will be the biggest
source of ideas. IndiaWorld’s story will hopefully inspire many of you
to embrace and extend the Internet.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.