72 ISP Licenses Issued In India
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The number of ISP licenses issued in India has reached 72, ever since the governments ISP monopoly was lifted on November 6 last year.
Fourteen licenses have been awarded for national-level ISPs, 24 for ISPs at the state level and in the major metros, and 34 for ISPs smaller cities and towns.
Some, like Weikfield Mnemonix InfoNetworks here in Pune, have already commenced operations.
Coupled with the increase in number of ISP players is a growing push for increasing PC penetration and promoting local language Webware and content, in a computer industry largely dominated by the English language.
Private ISP players at the national level include Satyam Infoway, Sukharta Finance, IndusInd Distribution, Zee Telefilm, Wipro, Global Electronics, Dishnet, and Sprint RPG.
Five public sector agencies are also eyeing the national ISP market: Ircon, CMC, STPI, ERNET and Punjab Wireless.
Chennai-based Satyam Infoway was the first national-level private ISP to commence operations last year, with services in 12 cities. Much attention is also focusing on the government telecom provider for the major metros of Mumbai and New Delhi, Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd (MTNL).
MTNL's tariffs are 15 per cent lower than that of Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL), which till recently was the monopoly ISP for the consumer and commercial market.
MTNL has reportedly signed up 1,500 subscribers, Satyam Infoway has 15,000 subscribers, and VSNL has 150,000 subscribers. Shared accounts and the presence of cybercafes and Internet kiosks account for a total user base in the country of about a million online citizens.
MTNL charges about $200 for a 500-hour account, along with a one-time registration charge of $10; VSNL and Satyam Infoway have higher rates.
"We are not competing on price alone," said R. Ramraj, managing director of Satyam Infoway. The ISP also has offerings in e-commerce and EDI.
Indian software companies are expected to turn to the Software Technology Parks of India (STPI) for international gateways from its own earth-to-satellite links. STPI has gateways in 13 locations in India.
Challenges still remain in ensuring a level playing field for Indian ISPs. The Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) has lodged a formal complaint with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) against VSNL and MTNL regarding issues like procedural hassles in getting phone lines and inadequate allocation of Internet bandwidth.
Some ISPs like Satyam Infoway are expected to launch their own international gateways.