I have already discussed these issues at length in previous posts; now extending to almost 5 years back. We have always bemoaned and cried about pathetic access but as customers we prefer to do just that. I have been exhorting the readers (as well as forum members repeatedly) that whining about the same is not going to help unless the people get together and do something together. It takes time and effort but then this is something that Indians don’t want to do.
I have been in email contact with Mathew Carley; the owner of Hayai Broadband and he has a lot to say on the prevailing scenario. Needless to say, though he is aware of the crippling issues that face Indian market, nevertheless he has innovative, out of box ideas for the same. The following is the text of the email quoted verbatim (and the links here in point to his Linked In profile. He can also be followed on Twitter here, here and here).
I wrote, ” Nevertheless, I have also wondered as to how you would “create” demand for the product. To me, the incremental cost of owning a PC is always a stumbling block. I have advocated Open Source and in recent times thin client model (Novatium comes to my mind) as a possible solution. BSNL has something on these lines but I have not been able to confirm this from the local office.” ( My earlier write ups on this issue are here, here and here; but they are way too old! )
He replies, ”
For those that can’t afford to buy computers, I’ve had the idea of basically setting up a similar system to that which is found in Finland. At public libraries, there are 10-15 computers available for public use.
To use them, you must have a library card which you put in one reader, and it spits out a queue number. When your number comes up, you are assigned to a particular computer automatically. You head over to the computer, insert your card in to the card-reader, and it’s yours to use in English, Finnish or Swedish for up to 15 minutes at a time. Oh, and I should mention: the whole lot is running on Linux! It is absolutely fantastic.
In our case (particularly for rural India), I imagine we would set up something akin to a cyber-cafe – prepaid cards, probably printed with a barcode, ID photo and accessed with a PIN code. Money would be deducted per 15, 30 or 60 minute session. The facility would have generators and alternative energies (solar?) supplying the power during the times when the grid is unavailable (or non-existent). I expect that we could run 10-15 thin-clients off of a single LTSP server and be relatively efficient, fast and secure, and the generators then only have to provide less than 1 kilowatt of electricity to keep the center going.
For cheap computers, there are a number of companies in India offering cheap solutions (not cheap enough) – one company’s products did look promising until I found out the price for his devices (between Rs10k and 15k!!!). Ideally they need to be as cheap as cellphones – I think not more than Rs5k may be acceptable. Then the question would be connecting these people. There are numerous options, but it would definitely be a situation of “lesser of multiple evils”.
I asked,” What is the cost of laying optical fiber in the country; is getting the ISP license “cheap”?
“With regards to laying optical fiber, it’s really a question of where. Currently there is no regulation as to the pricing of laying fiber. In Mumbai it can cost anything from Rs50 lakhs to Rs1 Crore per KM to lay fiber, or to utilize a 1Gbit/s port on existing fiber to a single neighbourhood can cost around Rs15lakhs per year. In other parts of the country however, this amount can drop to Rs1 lakh per kilometer, which if that happens to be in a built-up area, can mean that we can provide excellent services at decent prices.
Let’s take Panipat in Haryana as an example (chosen at random). The city has about 2.7 lakh people in an area roughly 4km across, 10km tall, giving us an approximate coverage area of 40sqkm (About 7% the size of Mumbai). Assuming plots to be an estimated 15m wide (judging by a rough look on Google Maps), we can say we’ll fit about 66 houses in to each KM of fiber. Let’s assume Rs10 lakhs per kilometer, which is a cost of about Rs15200 per house, assuming each house is a low-rise/bungalow.
Generally speaking, the life of the fiber is expected to be 20 years (aerial) or 30 years (underground). At this price, the fiber can pay for itself in 5-8 years depending on how much we charge for it and if we end up leasing it out to other providers. At the prices we charge currently Mumbai, (We have a base price currently of Rs550 including taxes) will mean that it would pay for itself in about 3 years.
This is the end of part I. I would be covering rest of the email and the interesting exchange of ideas in part II soon.