Who says broadband is easy

An excellent article on the status of broadband in India in The Hindu Business Line argues that private broadband players face, and will continue to face, problems because state operators BSNL and MTNL aren’t willing to share their last mile networks.

That leaves the private guys two options: invest huge amounts of money to build their own last mile networks, like Bharti Airtel is doing, or cut a deal with the Mom & Pop local cable operators to provide last mile connectivity. Private operators providing broadband over coax, like Sify and Hathway, have been able to build their broadband customer base faster tapping the local cablewallahs, as they focus on Internet Protocol and because they are not telecom operators whose primary business is voice. But this model may not be sustainable.

We in Delhi had a pretty bad experience with Sify—likely showing the downside of partnering up with the local cable guy–and we weren’t alone. We got a Sify connection because Bharti’s operator-built network hadn’t reached us yet, proving the point that tapping cable operators may speed rollout. But for the nine months that we were Sify customers, our daily morning routine included (usually me) calling up ‘Sify Suresh’ (as he was listed in our mobile phone’ address book) at 9:00 am to tell him that the Internet was down again.

Competitors’ vandals (or birds?) would cut Sify’s lines, strung as they precariously were over tree-tops and across residential roofs. Worse, we were inundated with viruses over their open network. ‘Sify Suresh’ became such a fixture in our house and in our lives that we soon began to interact like close pals. Once when I called him, he said, “Remember that tree near which you met me the other day and I was up on that tree repairing the wires? I just passed that tree so I’m just five minutes away.” Yup, I knew which tree he was talking about and that exchange conducted in Hindi, was ten times funnier than this translation sounds.

Now, we use Bharti Airtel’s broadband service which has finally made its way to out neighborhood. We and others had some exciting interactions with Bharti as well, showing that their rollout of Broadband, as the Business Line article points out, hasn’t been smooth. Their sales representatives, eager to close a deal, would insist they provided service in our neighborhood. On two separate occasions, we forked over the 500 bucks (Rupees)advance to sign up only to hear from the guys who actually came to install said connection that Airtel didn’t have any pillars in this neighborhood. Trying to get back that 500 bucks was worse than having a root canal.

Later, lured by a new, one-time scheme offering unlimited broadband, we again called Bharti Airtel. The sales rep duly showed up assuring us that they ‘now’ have pillars here and asks for 500 bucks. I kept saying I’m not going to give that to you until we are actually connected. He said it was policy. I told him he could leave. He looked at me like I was completely mad and looked toward my husband for corroboration of my insanity. Turns out this time Airtel had expanded to our neighborhood (and some others) and we have unlimited 256 kbps “broadband” connection, that has for the most part been reliable.

But sometimes we do miss ‘Sify Suresh’ J