India’s Net Use to Triple in 1999

The rush by private ISPs to capture chunks of the newly liberalised Indian Internet market continues, with analysts now expecting 1.5 million Internet
users to be online by year 2000–up from the current estimated 500,000
users on the Net.


In the western state of Gujarat, ICENET has become the first
company to receive a private ISP license. Its proposed value-added offerings include Web site design and hosting. Targeted businesses and consumers for ICENET will be in the cities of
Vadodara, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar, Surat and Gandhinagar.


“By the end of the year, we can expect to see major positioning moves from
6-8 national ISPs–such as VSNL, MTNL, Satyam Infoway, Bharti-BT and
Global Telesystems–plus 5-6 medium-size players in each major metro, and
at least 10-20 smaller players,” said Ajit Balakrishnan, managing director
of the popular Indian Webzine and e-commerce site Rediff on the Net.


Trying to become more competitive, monopoly long distance carrier and
commercial sector ISP Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL) has reduced its
Internet access rates over the past three years, from Rs. 25,000 for 250
hours down to Rs. 10,000 for a 500-hour account (1 USD = Rs. 43).
VSNL will be spinning off a separate subsidiary company called VSNL
Seamless Services Pvt. Ltd. (VSSL), focusing on value-added services like
EDI.


VSNL is planning to bundle Internet access with PC purchases, via
“Internet-ready” computers. VSNL has also been a partner in major under-sea
cable projects, such as the SEA-MEA-WEA which stretches from Japan to the
U.S. via India, the Middle East, South Africa and Europe.


Players eyeing partnerships for cable-TV Internet access include Pentafour
Software and Exports, which is setting up a wide area network of IBM AS 400
mainframes which can be used for interactive TV and Internet access
services, according to managing director V. Chandrasekaran.


Major ISP player Satyam Infoway has launched a content and
community-oriented Web site called SatyamOnline
with news and discussion on a wide range of topics like politics, car
finance, and music.


India on the Internet, an Internet solutions company based in Calcutta, has
launched a comprehensive news site called AllIndiaNews, geared at Internet users who would appreciate a
round-the-clock news service on the Web.


But ISPs may face challenges in getting enough telephone lines in the four
big Indian cities–Bombay, Delhi, Bangalore and Madras–from where up to
70 per cent of new ISP connection demand is expected to come.


Legal and regulatory challenges still arise in areas like setting of access
tariffs for private ISPs, international gateways, Internet telephony, and
opening up of the last-mile telecom market.


“The most revolutionary aspect of India’s Internet policy is letting ISPs
do the last mile connect–and this could well be the source of litigation
from basic service license holders who worry about voice over IP,” predicted
Balakrishnan.


The Indian government has now set up a 12-member expert group on
telecommunications, headed by deputy chairman of planning commission
Jaswant Singh, to make recommendations on these issues.
For the coming months, moves in ISP business and regulation are expected to
dominate the Internet market, while prospective ISPs gear up with
value-added offerings in content, community, e-commerce and intranetworking.


Earlier this week, India’s first privately run ISP, Satyam Infoway,
launched its Internet access service. It hopes to sign up 100,000
subscribers in its first year of operation from almost 40 cities, according
to managing director R. Ramaraj. Nearly 300 private firms have joined the
race to launch ISPs.


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