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February 16, 1999


An idea whose time's not come: The ISP Association of India has been set up. Now all they need are members ;-) Priya Ganapati

Internet Service Providers Association of India Chairperson Rajeev Arora is a stickler for mathematical accuracy.

Email this story to a friend. "I can't tell you exactly how many members ISPAI has. I will have to get the figure from my office. I don't want to give you numbers that might mislead you."

Okay. What about a few prominent names? "I don't want to name anybody in particular right now. We are calling a meeting in Delhi soon. We would then invite would-be ISPs to become members of our association," Arora promises.

But there is another gentleman at the National Association of Software and Service Companies conference held recently in Bombay. He is not very particular about his figure. "These people might have managed not more than five members!"

Yet another CEO of a small ISP quickly jumps up with an explanation. "Look here. The government has waived ISP license fees for the first five years. Thereafter too, it is only a nominal Re 1 per annum for the next 10 years. But to become a member of this association, ISPs will have to pay a non-refundable license fee of anything between Rs 10,000 and Rs 50,000!"

When confronted with these comments, Arora is quick with the explanation. "We are quite flexible when it comes to the fees. If many ISPs feel so, we will definitely change the amount," he told Rediff.

Arora traces how the ISPAI was formed.

In its earlier avatar the ISPAI was called the Email and Internet Service Providers Association of India.

"EISPAI was an association of email service providers and VSAT operators. The email guys were facing difficulties in terms of license fees because there was no level playing field. We felt that the learning experience of EISPAI could be used to set up the ISP association," Arora explained.

EISPAI, however, lacked industry support because it was seen as trying to delay the Internet policy through litigation in the high court.

However, the arrival of the Prime Minister's National Task Force on IT and Software Development turned everything topsy-turvy.

The recommendations of the task force removed most of the reasons for which EISPAI was fighting an expensive legal battle.

But Arora does not like to share the limelight with anyone else. "Because of our efforts some changes like no license fees for the first five years and the ability to not just connect to DoT but other service providers too were allowed," he claims.

Which still doesn't justify the huge membership fees that the organisation is charging. Arora gets on the defensive now.

"We will be having a awareness programme for ISPs that are not technologically very savvy. We are also planning to work with the government on different ISP related issues.

"We will have a site soon that will provide a library of material on the Net so that ISPs can look things up whenever they need to.

"In addition, we will lobby with the government and organise research materials, reports and other kinds of literature for ISPs," Arora elaborates.

He is, however, quick to realise that more members means more clout and hence greater lobbying power in the government.

Arora is willing to instead make changes to the membership fees if it only means more members enrol in the association.

"We need an initial corpus fund. The office employees have to be paid. Also, each time there is a meeting in Delhi we have to fly down there.

"Right now it is being done with our personal cash. But then all these small things do cost money," he pleads.

Later Arora revealed that the EISPAI has spent a whopping Rs 1.2 million as lawyers fees in the court case against the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.

Though he insists that EISPAI books are closed now, the experience has, according to him, only reinforced the need to have a strong corpus fund to dip into.

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