August 1, 1995: The Indian public may get full Internet access at reasonable prices when Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL), the public sector company with a monopoly over overseas communications, launches its Internet Gateway "by August 15th" - Indian Independence Day. The Gateway will be connected to the world through satellite or terrestrial links to MCI.
VSNL's plans were leaked earlier this year, and were very confused when reported in a bulletin from the (then unnamed) Indian Techonomist on April 23rd. They seem somewhat clearer now, and have already purchased equipment (including Alpha servers from Digital).
Unlike the two other government-run networks, ERNET and NICNET, which are not available to the general public, VSNL's service will be open to students, 'professionals' (individuals) and corporations. They will also be available to e-mail providers (who are burdened by $80,000 annual licence fees) and Internet service providers. The latter don't exist yet, thanks to Department of Telecommunications (DoT) rules that increase charges prohibitively when two networks interconnect. VSNL itself will be able to offer its services because it will emphasise international connectivity - hence the service's name, the 'Gateway' - and will not build infrastructure within the country.
VSNL will be available through dial-up lines in Delhi and Bombay, and later other cities such as Bangalore and Pune. It will be available through the DoT's I-NET network. This is based on the X.25 protocol and can be accessed through a local call in major cities, and through a special long-distance code at concessional rates from elsewhere.
As predicted in the earlier bulletin, VSNL will probably not be able to cope with demand. It expects at least 20,000 users nationwide in the first year, but has planned for only about 100 dial-in lines. It's inter-city network will be based on 64 kbps lines leased from the DoT, and it's link to MCI in the US will be between 128 kbps and 2 Mbps.
And VSNL is - as their Chief General Manager, Planning, told the Techonomist today - still committed to providing 250 hour/year accounts to 'students' for US$ 16 (Rupees 500) annually, later this year. To begin with, services will range from $160 for 250 hours for individuals (shell account only), through corporate SLIP/PPP at $600/year, to 128 kbps leased connections to other service providers at $100,000/year (excluding last-leg line costs).
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