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January 25, 2000
Mid-Day, MTNL offer 10,000 free Net accounts in Bombay
Priya Ganapati in Bombay
mid-day.com, the web site affiliated to popular Bombay eveninger Mid-Day, has tied up with Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited to provide 10,000 free Internet accounts to residents of the city. Each connection will be valid for 100 hours.
According to the offer, those interested have to call (022) 300 3132 anytime between 0800 and 2000 IST and register themselves. Callers will have to give their name, residential address, telephone number and email address as part of the registration process.
The free Internet accounts are because of an alliance forged between Mid-Day and MTNL. According to the deal, MTNL is the access partner and mid-day.com the portal partner.
"MTNL offers the best connectivity in Bombay and Mid-Day offers the best content. The thought process behind this is that various people have felt that there should be a synergy between a content provider and an Internet service provider," a senior executive at mid-day.com said.
Mid-Day will send the first 10,000 callers a CD-ROM that will carry the access number and password for the account.
The CD-ROM contains an autodialer, the Internet Explorer 5.0 browser, and an application to customise this browser to make mid-day.com the default home page.
Ramakrishnan Laxman, head of IT, Mid-Day Publications Limited, says the CD-ROM will first launch the auto-dialer and then check if the user already has IE 5.0 installed. "If not the CD will install IE first. A customised application in Visual Basic will be activated which will make the installed IE browser have mid-day.com as the default homepage." He says the application will not allow users to change their default home page.
Since the customised browser features will not work with lower versions of IE, the CD will also install IE 5.0 on the machine automatically if it detects a lower version.
Since the CD-ROM software is compatible only with IE 5.0, Netscape fans may be a little disappointed.
Laxman admits, "Netscape users will not be able to use this as we have managed to only customise the IE 5.0 browser. We did not have the tools to work on Netscape. This is because the VB application we have used already had an IE plugin that supports this kind of customisation."
So, what happens if a few smart alecks decide to chuck the CD-ROM away and use only the access number and password to surf the Internet with their existing browsers? Would this not defeat the entire purpose of Mid-Day's promotional spree?
"Well, its up to my technical guys to ensure that this does not happen," says Tariq Ansari, managing director, Mid-day Publications.
Laxman refuses to comment on the possibility. A terse "maybe" is all he is willing to give.
Ansari told rediff.com that Mid-Day teamed up with MTNL after evaluating three other ISPs in Bombay. "We had a choice of different partners. We were looking for two things in a partner. First, that it should be able to handle front-end access and, second, that they should be able to ensure quick access to the back-end.
"Since over two million homes in Bombay have MTNL pipes coming into them, they can best handle the last mile problem," he says.
Elaborating on the partnership, he says, "We believe there are different parts to the Internet. The first part involves promoting the Internet to the customer. The second is ensuring connectivity. The third is the content interface and the fourth will be the back-end access. If you see it in this linear way, MTNL fits the second and fourth space, while Mid-Day steps into the first and the third."
Mid-Day naturally hopes to make Bombayites get used to their site. It currently logs about 40,000 users a day and hopes that this drive should slowly push the numbers past 60,000.
Ansari reveals why Mid-Day had to embark on this marketing overdrive. "We have been late in the Internet business. We realise that we have entered at a time others already have a presence. But we have built up our content and we are now ready to meet the challenge partly by partnering with MTNL."
MTNL boasts of a subscriber base of around 12,000 in Bombay. The addition of 10,000 free accounts could almost double its existing base. It is hoping that even if a fourth of the users with free accounts decide to stick with MTNL as their ISP, it would beef up its user base.
Ansari dispels fears that MTNL may not be able to handle the sudden increase in its subscribers. "I have no doubt that they will be able to handle this efficiently. I have spent time with their technical team to assure myself that they will be able to scale up."
As part of the deal, Mid-Day will be hosting its content servers at MTNL offices. This will substantially reduce access time to the site.
Though Mid-Day has promised users "high Internet speeds, assured connectivity and faster downloads", the onus of providing all these rests with MTNL.
"While deciding on a partner for this venture, we asked ourselves only one thing: Does the partner have a hunger to grow as much as we do? We realised that everyone at MTNL would work to ensure that there are no problems. But if there is any problem with the connectivity then you are right, Mid-Day will be affected. But it also means that MTNL will be hit too," says Ansari.
The senior Mid-Day exec backs that. "MTNL's reputation too is at stake now. But we will ensure that mid-day.com will be available to users all the time and we hope to make the site sticky enough for visitors to come back to us."
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