India's first public-access Internet service provider will be a monopoly. This need not be as bad as it sounds
Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL) is the public-sector international communications monopoly. It has long provided leased lines to those needing more direct international connectivity. It has also provided a gateway to international X.25 data networks, so its foray into Internet services is not unexpected. This came at a moment that can only be described as interesting. This year, modem sales will double, crossing 25,000_one for every 10 PCs sold. Most modems are used in internal corporate networks, due to restrictions on public networks - the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has been sitting on its hands as far as datacom reforms go, and potential private service providers wait uneasily.
VSNL couldn't be bothered. It is not always on the best of terms with the DoT, but has avoided licensing problems by declaring its service an "Internet Gateway" obviously a form of overseas communications. VSNL will use its limited last-leg rights to connect to major cities, and route the rest through the DoT's own data network. Perhaps strangely for a monopoly, VSNL's pricing structure is almost rational, and its rates for individuals - about 60 cents an hour - are quite reasonable. Much less, at any rate, than what private e-mail providers charge, which is closer to 60 cents per page of text. VSNL is poor at customer support, and will probably not be able to meet the demand, despite their senior management's fond hopes. But when it decides to concentrate on connecting other, private, providers (as it is already willing to do), and lets them handle the end users, it would have set the precedent of a low price in India.
Providers will have to revise their plans, to the customers' benefit. The DoT will end its freeze on datacom next year. But VSNL would have broken the ice.
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