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Monday, August 11, 2003

Eight years gone by, Net revolution a far cry
Sandeep Kumar Sharma

ON August 15, 2003, the Internet is going to complete eight years of its existence in India. Last eight years have seen a lot of ups and downs for the Internet users. Still our performance on the Internet scenario is not satisfactory. The reasons are poor economic conditions and lack of infrastructure.

India has 5 million Internet users through 1.5 million Net connections, a number far below the initial hopes of an explosive growth of the Internet in India.

The world has 553 million Internet users with the USA alone accounting for 30 per cent of them followed by Europe (24 per cent) and Asia Pacific (14 per cent). India accounts for just 5 million or barely 1 per cent of the world users of Internet.

When the Internet services were launched in India, tall claims were made that the Internet would change the lives of a common man. The policy makers did not fail to recognise the potential of the Net in India. Thatís the reason that ISP policy of the Department of Telecommunications was liberal with free licensing to the ISPs. India was also among those countries who had implemented the IT Act, 2000.This Act not only helped in restricting the Net crimes but also gave validity to the digital signature end e-commerce. Setting up of gateways for the Internet and laying of cables was permitted to the ISPs.

Various tax incentives were also given to the IT industry. Still the result is not in line with the expectations

The number of Net users in India remain stagnated at 5 million, even less than the mobile phone users who have crossed the 7 million mark.

The mobile revolution is new and the Net revolution is eight years old. Then where did our decision-makers fail? There are many factors for the slow growth of Internet in India.

Firstly, the charges of Internet usage remain one of the highest in the world. Internet dial up is still charged as local calls, netting approximately Rs. 30 per hour to BSNL/MTNL. Add to it the ISP charges. A typical household with 3 hours of Internet users access per day would need Rs 3,500 per month to access the Net. Thus, the user wants to remain away from such an expensive use of Internet. In fact just 20 hours of monthly Net access in India costs 16.8 per cent of GDP per capita. According to a report on Internet Survey 2002, in India Internet users per Ď000 is 5, Brazil has 35, South Africa has 34, Mexico has 23, Malaysia has 90, Thailand 74, USA 536 and Sweden has 506 Internet users. In this whole scenario, Indiaís Internet show is really dismal.

Elsewhere in the world, dial up is being offered at flat rates (including dial-up charges) of $ 10-15 per month (USA). Similarly in UK, Net is available at $ 15 per month and DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) access averages $ 40-50 million per month. These flat rates are applicable in many countries of the world.

Another major obstacle of the slow growth of Net is the slow bandwidth. Fast speed or Net through broadband has failed to enter the common manís home. Though DSL technology is available in India, still is not commonly available to the Internet user. Asia excelled in the usage of DSL technology. According to the figures, this technology is now operating on 26 per cent of all installed telephone lines in South Korea. In Hong Kong, 70 per cent home users have access to broadband services.

From last year to current year, there has been 50 per cent expansion in this technology. In this technology, India lags far behind. Till now, there has been no broadband revolution in the country.

Broadband cable Internet has been a major success in the USA. Internet telephony accounts for nearly 11 per cent of the global international traffic. In India, the regulations for Net telephony are highly biased. No telephony operator can provide Internet service within India.

This means that if a person buys a Net card, heíll not be able to call anywhere in Delhi or Mumbai. Leased-line Internet connections are one of the most expensive ones in India.