(C) Copyright 1995 Rishab Aiyer Ghosh (rishab@dxm.org)

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India's VSNL to offer Internet access for $16

New Delhi, 23rd April 1995: India's public sector Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL) which holds a monopoly over all international communications is planning to offer full Internet connectivity on a commercial basis in June. Their rates range from $16 per annum for dial-up access for "students" to $10,000 per annum for 128kbps 24-hour connectivity to other commercial Internet service providers.

Currently Internet connectivity in India is limited to users of ERNET, the non-commercial Education and Research Network run by the Government's Department of Electronics. Partial connectivity is available to users of NICNET, a network intended primarily for government use. There are, however, several commercial e-mail providers who pay enormous licence fees to the Government's monopolistic Department of Telecommunications (DoT), which has not permitted the operation of any full-service Internet provider.

While the legal position of VSNL's service is unclear, the company has a tradition of confounding restrictive rules originating from various government departments in search of its own profit. While VSNL might take its official monopoly on international communications, which was recently extended by the government for a further 10 years, to imply permission to offer Internet services, other potential Internet service providers who wish to route traffic through VSNL will probably still require DoT permission.

VSNL's relatively low rates for Internet access, which are probably subsidized by high profits from other services such as international voice communications, may result in a sudden rush to get wired among India's Internet-aware population. Although VSNL plans to start small, offering connectivity in only Bombay and Delhi to begin with, they might be overwhelmed by the response. The company has no prior experience with the Internet, and the X.25 gateway and X.400 e-mail they currently provide are not known for excellent quality of service.

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