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India To Offer Free Broadband by 2009 245

Posted by Zonk
from the now-we-need-that-over-here dept.
codecracker007 writes "The Government of India is planning to introduce free 2 mbps broadband for all residents of the Indian subcontinent by 2009. The expected service shall be launched by the government owned telecom operators BSNL and MTNL. Quoting from the article: 'The government proposes to offer all citizens of India free, high-speed broadband connectivity by 2009, through the state-owned telecom service providers BSNL and MTNL. While consumers would cheer, the move holds the potential to kill the telecom business as we know it.' The India Times has an extensive editorial on the decision. It must be mentioned that the Indian government and its autonomous regulatory bodies are very proactive in holding the consumer interests above the operators', managing to reduce the long distance and wireless tariffs by a up to factor of 20 in less than 7 years."
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India To Offer Free Broadband by 2009

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  • It's not free (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 27, 2007 @10:34AM (#18900201)
    You can call it "free" if you'd like to, but I doubt that installers will work for free and manufacturers will make equipment for free. So, what you really mean instead of "free" is "paid for through taxation". It's no more free than having police, roads, or congress.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Thanks milhouse. Do you honestly think that anyone here actually thought that there was no source of funding for the project?
      Come up with a term that concisely distinguishes between a pay-to-play broadband service and the act of offering a service at zero cost to its citizenry. Hey how about "free"?

      Next time someone offers you a free beer why don't you refuse because you want paid professionals making your beverage products rather than volunteers. They're probably dumpster diving for hops and scrap metal to
      • Subsidized (Score:4, Insightful)

        by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday April 27, 2007 @10:54AM (#18900523) Homepage
        I believe the term you are looking for is "subsidized".

        Government is empowered by people who don't know the difference between subsidized and free. Thanks for doing your part!
        • exactly the point . . . thanks for putting it so cogently.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by ephedream (899351)
      Ok, I agree that maybe for India this is not the best thing if most of their population is destitute but in general, I think this kind of idea is great. I live in Canada and let me say I've been praying for government-funded fiber to the home for the last few years now. This would be much better to me than a telco that doesn't want to do anything unless the profits are enormous. I doubt that any cable/dsl companies will offer affordable fiber in the near future. Of course, if the government ever tried this,
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by goldspider (445116)
        You wouldn't be at all concerned about your government controlling yours and everybody's Internet access? Just wait till some legislative do-gooder slaps restrictions and monitoring on it, in the interest of national security, the Children, etc. of course. I doubt you'd be so enthusiastic about that.

        And you do realize that "government-funded", you're still paying for it. You just don't know how much.

        If I were you, I wouldn't be comfortable with either.
        • by klingens (147173)
          They already do monitor it in the EU. As a Bonus the ISPs and telcos have to foot the bill for it too. Ain't that nice of the government? No higher taxes!
        • You wouldn't be at all concerned about your government controlling yours and everybody's Internet access? Just wait till some legislative do-gooder slaps restrictions and monitoring on it, in the interest of national security, the Children, etc. of course. I doubt you'd be so enthusiastic about that.

          And you do realize that "government-funded", you're still paying for it. You just don't know how much.

          If I were you, I wouldn't be comfortable with either.

          Ours is going to do this anyways. Might as well do it while cutting out the requirement to make as much profit as possible off your users.

          • "Ours is going to do this anyways. Might as well do it while cutting out the requirement to make as much profit as possible off your users."

            Because layers upon layers government bureaucratic bloat has proven _much_ better than corporate profits.
          • by Kadin2048 (468275)
            Ours is going to do this anyways. Might as well do it while cutting out the requirement to make as much profit as possible off your users.

            What makes you think that the government won't squeeze you for revenue in the same way that Comcast does?

            Pork doesn't grow on trees, ya'know; given half a chance they'll screw you just as badly, and you don't have the option of just telling them to piss off like you do with a regular company.
      • I live in Canada and let me say I've been praying for government-funded fiber to the home for the last few years now.

        You want this guy to be providing your Fiber?
        "A member of Canada's ruling Conservative party [slashdot.org] has pledged to "clean up" the Internet with new bill that would mandate ISP licensing, know-your-subscriber rules, and allow the government to order ISPs to block content."
    • Re:It's not free (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sid0 (1062444) on Friday April 27, 2007 @10:54AM (#18900517) Journal
      Yes, and that's the trouble. Rule #1: There's no such thing as a free lunch.

      The government here in India wastes too much money on such frivolous ideas, and on services to political class (free travel, free elecricity, free telephone calls, you name it). In the end their luxury is financed by us, the middle class. Every year the rate of taxation is increased (a tax on "services" has gone up from 8% to 12.36% in the past few years), or an entirely new tax is added.

      There's no other solution but to cut down on this stupidity and direct the money towards the poorest of the poor. There will be plenty of scope to reduce taxes afterwards.
    • Re:It's not free (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LeDopore (898286) on Friday April 27, 2007 @11:06AM (#18900703) Homepage Journal

      So, what you really mean instead of "free" is "paid for through taxation".

      The big question is "paid how much?" The three biggest expenses for big ISPs are:
      1. "Last mile" connectivity
      2. Advertising and promotion
      3. Billing & accounting
      With community- or government-provided networks, #2 and #3 go away completely, and most of #1 goes away too. Here's why.

      Most of the expense of getting residents Internet connectivity comes from connecting up the last few miles to individuals' homes. ISPs could in principal do away with a wired "last mile" with the right wireless technology, but that would make it easy for people to share their connections and passwords with neighbours. Instead, ISPs are charging you a premium so they can keep you from sharing your Internet connection when they insist on using cable or DSL.

      We're at the point now where the inefficiency inherent in having to advertise, charge for and segregate Internet service is greater than the inefficiency inherent in public sector projects, which means that financially it's better now to have government- and community-provided Internet connectivity.
      • Rubbish! (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Mateo_LeFou (859634)
        You have NO IDEA what the costs of running a broadband network are! You left out
        -My $1.4 million salary [newnetworks.com]
        -$2 - $7 million/yr in campaign contributions [opensecrets.org]
        -Dozens of attorneys to sue Vonage out of existence
        ...and a bunch of things I'm not allowed to talk about
        Mateo LeFou, CEO, Verizon/AT&T
      • by khallow (566160)

        You forgot #4:

        4. Continually upgrading the network to remain competitive.

        That cost goes away as well since nothing can compete with a highly subsidized government line. So no need to upgrade.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mattwarden (699984)
        In what world do you live where tax-sponsored programs don't have billing and accounting? I work in public sector, and I can tell you this is absolutely not the case. In many cases, it's more complex than in private sector.

        Really the only thing you avoid is collection costs.
        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by LeDopore (898286)
          Sorry - collection costs are what I meant. You wouldn't have to interact with millions of users, just dozens of companies.
      • You're assuming that India already has an excessively built-up "backbone" infrastructure like the US did in the late 90s when broadband started to take hold.

        I'm not 100% sure that this is the case. Even the backbone in the US is beginning to feel the strain from streaming video, P2P and other high-bandwidth activities.
      • The article was not specific about how this could work. If it is going to be a countrywide wi-fi network instead of wired connections to every household then the last mile cost disappears as well.
    • Re:It's not free (Score:4, Insightful)

      by timeOday (582209) on Friday April 27, 2007 @11:13AM (#18900793)

      It's no more free than having police, roads, or congress.
      You're right, but paying for something doesn't necessarily make you poorer. If it's a good investment, you get back more than you put in. India isn't doing this because they think websurfing is more important than clean water, they're doing it because computers are a big and growing part of their economy. This is a bold, competitive investment.
  • Broadband -ne Food (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Syncerus (213609) on Friday April 27, 2007 @10:35AM (#18900227)
    Uhh, maybe it's me and my misplaced sense of priorities, but you might want to help the starving people dying people in the street before you give them free prOn.

    Of course, I could be wrong.
    • by eln (21727) on Friday April 27, 2007 @10:37AM (#18900245) Homepage
      There's an old proverb that relates to this. Something to the effect of "If you give a man a fish, he'll eat for a day. If you give a man free porn, he'll die with a smile on his face."
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Moggyboy (949119)
      Just like the States should spend it's budget on education and health care before invading another country. Can you spell hypocritical?
    • by Infonaut (96956) <infonaut@gmail.com> on Friday April 27, 2007 @10:44AM (#18900359) Homepage Journal

      ...you might want to help the starving people dying people in the street before you give them free prOn

      How about the idea that by putting in a more modern infrastructure, more high-paying modern jobs will be created, and all boats will rise? By your logic, it was a bad idea for the TVA to provide rural electrification, because people in poverty don't need electricity, they need food.

      I don't know that free broadband will have the effect the Indian government thinks it will. It may not even get built by 2009. But if the government wants to stimulate economic growth, it isn't an unreasonable component of a larger plan to make it easier to do business in India.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by CastrTroy (595695)
        Free internet is a good thing, but if the people in poverty don't have electricity, than how are they supposed to use the internet?
        • Laptops? Maybe OLPC?

          You could charge your battery with a generator or solar cell or at a friend's house that has electricity.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Dazza (2865)
        Just having a wander through the streets of Delhi makes you realise how daft this idea of offering every citizen broadband is.

        I was having a conversation recently with a well educated, wealthy, middle class Indian lady. She was telling me how high the average Indian wage was now. I was staggered at the figure she quoted, which, upon some questioning didn't include anyone not 'middle class'. Or, in other words, most of the country.

        Something tells me this is the type of person who decided it would be offered
      • Well, electricity can provide heat both for cooking and for not freezing. Though the people living in two-room huts (one room of which is for the livestock) probably aren't going to benefit from either the electricity or the broadband.
      • by drsquare (530038)

        How about the idea that by putting in a more modern infrastructure, more high-paying modern jobs will be created, and all boats will rise?
        Except in India all the boats don't rise. The biggest boats rise, the rest just stay sunk on the seabed.
      • by pipingguy (566974) *
        Hey, in theory, free porn could help lower the birth rate!
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Falesh (1000255)
      It's not quite as simple as that. India is getting a higher and higher GDP from the tech industry. If they pump money into that then the state will get more money to put into feeding its poor. If they spend the money on feeding their poor and none on development they will stay a poor country for longer.
      • You missed an important detail, which is that the poor cannot wait for the wonderful new India to deliver them a decent food source, given that they're going hungry now.
    • by vivin (671928)
      I may be a bit harsh on this post, so sorry.

      Trust any article on India to have a stupid, bone-headed comment like this. No government in the world spends ALL its money on something like sanitation or solving poverty, before looking into something progressive.

      You think there aren't programs to try and solve poverty in India? Think again. Of course poverty is a big problem in India. But that doesn't preclude India from trying to provide a good communication infrastructure to its citizens.

      This translates to mo
    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by fiannaFailMan (702447)
      You're responding to a post about a:

      (*) Technical innovation in a developing country
      ( ) Product shipped to a developing market
      ( ) General discussion about IT in the developing world

      The location is:

      ( ) Africa
      (*) India
      ( ) Bangladesh
      ( ) China
      ( ) Somewhere else in Asia
      ( ) South America
      ( ) Central America
      ( ) Other ______________

      You're objecting to it on the basis that:

      (*) Poverty hasn't been eliminated in that country yet
      ( ) American jobs will be lost

      Your argument is bogus because:

      (*) Poverty hasn't been elimin
  • by LotsOfPhil (982823) on Friday April 27, 2007 @10:37AM (#18900247)
    So you get 2 mbps. I guess that means 1 bit every 500 seconds. 1 billion people in India, 2 million bits per second. That's not that tough, but I guess giving everyone somewhere to plug in would take some infrastructure.
  • More Outsourcing? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by OakLEE (91103) on Friday April 27, 2007 @10:43AM (#18900327)
    The article raises a few issues. The first of which is what level of connectivity are we talking about? Does "access" mean a line to every home, or just access to a line by every household. The former would be a boon to all citizens (especially those living in tenement slums). The latter isn't as impressive as one could establish this by having access to one computer in each village.

    I think the greater issue, however, is the potential boon this might be to companies looking to outsource operations. One of the driving forces behind outsourcing is the penetration of cheap telecom into emerging markets. Here, you'd have a situation where companies wouldn't even need to pay for internet access to hire workers. They could just have them telecommute from home. If that's the case the amount of outsourcing could increase rapidly. It's a smart decision by the Indian government, as their investment would pay off ten fold if that were case. For the American engineer, though, this is perhaps not such a good development.
    • You obviously haven't actually seen the slums in India if you think having a broadband line going into their hut would do anything at all for them. What would they plug into it, the cow's tail? There are certainly millions (hundreds of millions) of people who would benefit, but there are millions more for whom this would be mostly meaningless.
      • by OakLEE (91103)
        Actually I have, and that was precisely the intent of the first paragraph. Maybe I didn't convey my sarcasm towards an "every hut" policy that well.
        • Sorry, it didn't come off as sarcastic to me - damn text-only. Some people really don't realize that poverty in the US is better than middle-class in a lot of the world.
    • Why do you think it is not good for Americans? American businesses would be one set of businesses utilizing the outsourcing.
  • Free broadband will, of course, result in India becoming a richer country. I am happy about that.
  • by tdmg (881818) on Friday April 27, 2007 @10:47AM (#18900387)
    1. FREE BROADBAND!!!!!
    2. Feed our citizens
    3. Nuke Pakistan
    4. Restructure caste system
    5. $1 taco Tuesday
    6. AIDS prevention? ....
  • by arun_s (877518) on Friday April 27, 2007 @10:49AM (#18900419) Homepage Journal
    If they go through with this, it'll be really cool. Maybe, before that, just one small change would make me really happy. I have a 'broadband' conncetion right now, and the speed is a blazing 256 kbps. That's because that's what our Department of Telecommunications has defined [dot.gov.in] the minimum speed to be, for an ISP to call its service as a broadband connection. Disappointing, somewhat.
    Btw 256 kbps is also the maximum they're offering in my area in my city, I can't even upgrade if I want to.
    • by CastrTroy (595695)
      What area in what city? Seriously. I live in Canada, and every city has broadband. At least 1 MBit if not 6 0r 8. Tiny little rural towns are another thing altogether, but I don't think there's a town with more than 10,000 people that doesn't have real broadband.
      • by arun_s (877518)
        I'm in Bangalore of all places. Check out this page [airtelbroadband.in] from my ISP, they mention a max speed of 512 kbps.
        (Their service and support is pretty cool and I'm happy with them on the whole, so I'll forgive them their flash-filled website that doesn't even open properly in Opera)
    • by unmadindu (524636)
      Get a BSNL connection - you'll get 2 Mbps at the same rate as Airtel.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 27, 2007 @10:52AM (#18900475)
    For any company that sets up offices in India, bypassing the public telecom system is job 1. When you see a picture of big-wig executives showing off their snazzy India facility, see if you can spot the satellite uplink on the roof. Believe me, it's there.


    My former employer built an office in India. The prices we were quoted for internet bandwidth were roughly 8X what we paid in the US. In the end, we settled for a quarter of T1 speed for about double the US price. In exchange for all of this, the throughput sucked. Packet latency and loss were simply miserable. The parent article's quote about "...regulators are very proactive in holding the consumer interests above the operators" is total BS as far as I'm concerned.


    Power is free in India, which leads to overconsumption and underinvestment in the power grid. Politically, free power is untouchable, yet there is no money available to make it reliable. Anyone who truly needs power learns to generate their own on-site. The same holds true for bandwidth -- bring your own.

  • It must be mentioned that the Indian government and its autonomous regulatory bodies are very proactive in holding the consumer interests above the operators', managing to reduce the long distance and wireless tariffs by a up to factor of 20 in less than 7 years."
    If they were really pro-consumer, they wouldn't have any tariffs to begin with. All this statement does is congratulate them for reducing a situation they caused in the first place. Hardly "proactive".
    • by gstoddart (321705)

      If they were really pro-consumer, they wouldn't have any tariffs to begin with. All this statement does is congratulate them for reducing a situation they caused in the first place. Hardly "proactive".

      What, as opposed to the US who is allegedly pro "free trade" and the like, but then slaps on protectionist import tarrifs, continues to subsidize their domestic industries, and refuses to abide by their treaty obligations?

      India is hardly the only country guilty of this. Every damned country does things which

  • How exactly does one increase competition by reducing the number of players? Please forgive me, but I am enormously skeptical of the ultimate purposes of this plan. At the highest level, this sounds very good. Many in India have benefited greatly as the benefits of telephony became available to them, especially the poor. However... This was not due to BSNL/MTNL. It was most recently due to a host of other players that dramatically lowered prices across the board for GSM phone and internet access. Min
  • Once the free broadband is in place, it can be used by impoverished people to go online and experience virtual food, virtual education, and virtual opportunity. It will be called, "Do-over Life".
  • 60% of households in India do not have electricity yet according to Reuters. I assume they are going to have to wait for a massive electrification program before that is possible.

    http://www.alertnet.org/thenews/newsdesk/N07237764 .htm [alertnet.org]

  • In Houston [technewsworld.com].
  • by goldspider (445116) <ardrake79NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday April 27, 2007 @11:07AM (#18900721) Homepage
    "Government big enough to supply everything you need is big enough to take everything you have ... The course of history shows that as a government grows, liberty decreases."

    Be careful what you ask for. You might just get it.
  • All this talk about India being so hot and ready to break onto the world stage. This kind of talk has been going on for well over a decade, and nothing's happened.

    India has it's fat head firmly up it's hubristic arse. There is no way anything like this can be pulled off - check back in 2009 and see what they actually end up with...more hot air and nothing to show for it. Just like less than 20% of their MBA holders being employable. India is a waste of time - steer clear and save yourself the headaches.
  • Luckily for them they already have the call centers in place, I wonder if they have a hard time understanding them as well.
  • I don't like the idea of the goverment provided telecom services. Too many privacy issues there. I like the idea of the "wall" that separates the private telecom industry from the goverment, specifically law enforcement. Enough abuses already exist with the wall in place, image what would happen if suddenly the goverment ran the show and didn't need to pass laws or go to court to get the information it was looking for, all in the name of "national security", of course.
    • by radja (58949)
      I'm all in favour of government provided services: there's been much abuse of private data by private parties. I agree with your points, but my conclusion is different: there are a lot more safeguards to control a government than there are to control what a private company does with the data it gathers.
  • The Indian Government is notorious for quashing dissention on the internet. This may be a really radical conspiracy theory, but, by offering free internet access, the government gains control over its populace. Therefore, appearance differs from reality. By controlling internet access, the Indian Government gains certain amounts of control over content through filtering, port blocking, monitoring, etc. It is a great way to track would-be dissidents and others speaking out against the government.
  • by oyenstikker (536040) <slashdot@@@sbyrne...org> on Friday April 27, 2007 @11:41AM (#18901255) Homepage Journal
    Pakistan is on the Indian Subcontinent. I am very surprised that India would offer free internet access to Pakistan.

    Oh.

    I am not very surprised that the story submitter made a statement that is not in the story, and the Slashdot "editors" did not edit it out.
    • by CrazyTalk (662055)
      Yes, and Canada is part of (North) America, but Candadians are never called Amercians. When you say "American" you mean someone from the USA.
    • by XchristX (839963)
      Geographically, only half of Pakistan is in the Indian Subcontinent (Pakistani Punjab and Sindh). The other half (Balochistan and the Tribal areas) are outside the tectonic plate that characterizes the Indian subcontinent. Even culturally, the Baluch and the tribals are markedly different from the Punjabis and Sindhis (the Baluch are ethnically Iranian), which is why there is such unrest there. The Baluch are poorly represented in Pakistani politics (which is dominated by ethnic Punjabis) and are largely op
  • 2009... lets see so India is a bigger country than the US, has less resources than the US and has more people than the US most of whom are much poorer than the US.

    Of course a government can succeed where private enterprise failed. There will of course be no problem getting 2Mbps to 1 billion people, oh no, and of course the fact that most don't have a computer and that the level of literacy outside of the major cities isn't great won't be any sort of barrier.

    Nice political statement, but I'd say there is m
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday April 27, 2007 @11:48AM (#18901381) Journal
    I see many postings about India should feed its starving masses first. First of all India has not had a famine since the 1964 Bihar famine.

    Because the poor are numerous they are seen everywhere. Heart wrenching scenes of squalor abounds everywhere overwhelming the other part of Indian population. Half of India is on susbsitence level and two-thirds of India does not have any disposable income to speak of. That still leaves some 330 million people with disposable income, who form the middle class. That is bigger than total population of USA 300 million.

    So let us not go overboard and think all Indians are dirt poor living in slums.

  • Free broadband to everyone doesn't necessarily mean to their homes. They don't even have telephones to each home right now. This may just mean that it will be available at a nearby location. When I was in India, there were places you could use the Internet or make a phone call from all over the place. Going to the home would be pointless since they don't all have computers or 24-7 electricity either.
  • It is so utterly weird that I was thinking of exactly the same thing this morning - of all things, free broadband access in India, although the wireless kind. Here's my take on it:

    Internet is elementally another form of media, just like TV or radio or newspapers. In India, there are state sponsored TV and radio channels - have been around for much longer than cable TV arrived on the scene. In fact, government run TV (Doordarshan) and radio (Akashvani) in India were the primary information channels servin

  • The actual story (Score:2, Informative)

    by buzzzz (767841)
    http://www.indianexpress.com/story/29315.html [indianexpress.com]

    There is no such plan.

    India's Minister of Communications & Information Technology recently launched the Re.1 OneIndia scheme where all telephone calls originating and ending in India (local and long distance, mobile and landline) will cost only Re 1. (2 Cents) During the press conference he was asked if a similar scheme is possible for net connectivity and he said the vision is to:

    1. Start web hosting with MTNL and BSNL (The govt owned telecom companies) so
  • Its really a bad idea to try and get wired connections into every Indian home given the dual problems of over congested cities and far and spread out small villages. Its precisely why it was so tough to get phones in India till wireless came in. On the other hand if the govt just concentrates on providing free wifi and let it be implemented on city level say by allowing cities to hold on to some octroi to pay for it, it would work much better. For the rural areas free wifi could be provided by colocating wi

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