If you ever wanted to see a deployment of the classic smokescreen tactic, all you need to do is turn to our dear telecom industry for help. For a better idea of what I am talking about, try parsing the following statement by Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (AUSPI) and Reliance on the government’s idea to enforce strict Quality of Service norms for broadband services in India:
“It is seen that compared to most of the countries in Asia and the West, where broadband usage is growing, our country still lags behind. As such, the focus right now should be on both supply side and demand side of the broadband market, that is, creating and deploying broadband-capable infrastructure in the country as well as stimulating the use of broadband in the country. We need to focus on creating the need and deployment of broadband in the country.”
Most of the companies who comprise the association are the ones who are responsible for doing the “creating and deploying” of broadband in India and the ‘usage’ that is being mentioned is something that follows the first part. So what exactly is the government doing wrong by asking for strict measures to ensure that the so-called broadband being peddled around by the same companies is what it claims to be? Essentially, what they are asking for is to be allowed to deliver an abysmal (and overpriced) level of service to the customer, without being held accountable for it, all in the name of helping broadband grow in the country.
According to VSNL, the problem they are facing with regards to any kind of QoS is “linked to adequate last mile access”. REACH Ltd meanwhile does not want the TRAI ” to attribute service failures to operators in India” because “circumstances giving rise to service failure are beyond operators’ control”. Effectively, what they are arguing is that they don’t have much control over either end of the service. I can sympathise a little bit about the last mile problem, though VSNL/Tata Indicom should have nothing to cry about it and service providers who tie up with the local cablewallah to cut corners and costs should not cry wolf about the same thing.
But the gem of all the statements is provided by AUSPI and Reliance Infocomm, who must have hired a wind tunnel to supply the requisite amount of air power to generate the smoke required, in saying “Internet is a best effort service. It is the interconnecting of several networks worldwide that form the Internet. Many of these networks are proprietary and, therefore, their performance norms have to be complied with”. If networks participating in the Internet were proprietary, there would be no Internet at all. BGP4 that is used for routing on almost all of the Internet is an open standard. Even if they mean to say privately held by using “proprietary” in its place all I can ask is “so what?” Being a private company somehow enables you to justify even lousier service levels? I think not.
On ground zero this is the situation today. Almost every broadband service provider advertises ‘broadband’ connections at dirt cheap prices. When you look closer the finer print steps out from all the smoke. It is almost always a service with ridiculously low data transfer rates (as low as 250 MB for a month at times) or a package that will give you the mandatory 256 Kbps connection only for a higher rater, which is signified by the asterisk you see in the advertisements. Every time you log into your GMail account, it pulls around 700 KB worth of data from Google. It does not take a math wizard to figure out for how long, using just Gmail, you can survive on an account that gives you only 250 MB of data transfer.
But that is another story altogether and has nothing to do with the QoS they are talking about here. They don’t want to sign up for the stricter norms because then they can’t get away with unexplainable downtimes or speeds that are often 1/3rd of what is advertised. On one of the packages I used to be on earlier, the network would disappear more often than not and it used to be a time limited unlimited data transfer package. In the current scenario I can’t complain about it to anyone. Speed, which is another benchmark for quality, is equally pathetic. Even on a 64 Kbps line we are used to considering ourselves fortunate if we’d get 11 Kbps maximum. Mind you, this was not because the trunk lines being cut anywhere or the cablewallah’s cables being cut, it was because of the service provider using throttling to lock the users down to the barest minimum of speeds.
TRAI’s consultation paper released on May 23, 2006 defines broadband as “an ‘always-on’ data connection that is able to support interactive services including Internet access and has the capability of the minimum download speed of 256 kilo bits per second (kbps) to an individual subscriber from the Point Of Presence (POP) of the service provider..” If that were taken seriously 80% of the connections masquerading as broadband would have to be taken off the market.
Moreover, it also aims to fix the QoS based on the following parameters:
(i) Network latency
(ii) Packet loss
(iii) Bandwidth utilization/throughput
(iv) Service provision/ activation time
(v) Service availability/uptime
(vi) Fault repair/ restoration time
(vii) Static IP address allocation
All of which would force the service providers to clean up their act and actually help India prosper via the broadband route than to just help the providers get richer and richer while the poor users have nowhere to run when the are treated in the most despicable manner.
Blaming faulty STM links is not an excuse. Any self respecting service provider worth his name these days use multiple STM connections (guess who controls most of the long distance links in that segment of the market? VSNL!) and satellite links to keep their services running. Last mile connectivity is not again an issue for most broadband service providers. VSNL, Reliance, Airtel all have it and if there is a problem in that, it is something internal to the companies and it has nothing to do what the government can or cannot do. Of course, we still have the pipe dream of unbundling of the last mile access on existing telephone networks, but that is another story altogether.