Rediff Logo Infotech Banner Ads Find/Feedback/Site Index
October 29, 1997


Net work

The Implementation Committee is busy
translating the ISP policy into practice.

With the union cabinet clearing the policy draft on the opening up of the Internet services business, all eyes are now upon the Implementation Committee which is to decide upon the finer issues of how the Jalan Committee's recommendations can be translated into practice.

Net  work
Moratorium sought
Computer courseware
Xerox marks India
The Implementation Committee includes representatives of the Department of Telecommunications, the Department of Electronics, the Planning Commission, the Indian Railways and the Power Grid Corporation of India Limited. It has the DoT secretary as its chairman.

Strangely, even though the Jalan Committee recommendations fall in line with the private industry's wish list on most counts, the would-be private Internet service providers are not too happy with the cabinet's clearance of the committee's draft.

Industry sources explain that an important reason for the lack of enthusiasm stems from the fact that some key recommendations of the committee are yet to be treated as final.

For instance, the committee has recommended that private ISPs be allowed to approach Software Technology Parks of India for international connectivity as an alternative to the Internet gateway of the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited but DoT has reportedly said that the proposal will need clearance by security agencies.

Similarly, the recommendation that the optic fibre networks belonging to the railways and the power grids be used for building the country's Internet backbone, has been referred to the cabinet secretary for a 'final clearance'.

With the entry of new decision makers, a clear picture of the licensing conditions is not expected to emerge before the end of the year.

The would-be ISPs also complain about lack of transparency in the framing of the policy. "At the end of the day, the only issue in which we have been given a positive assurance is that the double rentals on leased lines would be removed. On every other count we are still guessing," laments a representative of a company that currently owns an email licence.

The DoT, meanwhile, is said to be totally opposed to the proposal to allow private entities lease bandwidth capacities from the railways and power grid, as it is concerned that the move would violate its monopoly over long-distance traffic.

In such a scenario, where DoT is in opposition to key recommendations of the Jalan Committee, the private industry is uncomfortable with the department's important role within the Implementation Committee.

The would-be private ISPs are hoping that the DoE will push strongly for the use of STPs - which come under the department - for international connectivity. "It (using the STPs' gateways) is not the same as having direct international connectivity but it is at least an alternative to using only VSNL's gateway,'' said an executive with one firm.

Though they are pleased about the waiver of the licence fees for five years (as against the two-year period specified earlier), the would-be private ISPs are concerned that the figures for the bank guarantees and 'port charges' have not yet been spelt out.

According to industry sources, there are rumours that private ISPs might be asked to furnish bank guarantees of up to Rs 9.5 million for operating in the larger cities.

On the question of port charges (payable to VSNL for connecting to its Internet gateway), B K Syngal, chairman and managing director, VSNL, said recently that the company would be charging private ISPs the same rates that it charged other companies (like software firms which use the links for their export activities). "In fact, the tariff could even be promotional if the Telecom Commission instructs us accordingly,'' Syngal assured.

The VSNL currently charges an annual fee of Rs 8 million as port charge for a 2 Mbps link. Another point of concern to private ISPs is the DoT's reported plan to fix the tariff charged by it as the maximum rate that private ISPs could charge their subscribers.

Private ISPs want the tariff fixation process to be left to market dynamics. They claim that placing a cap on tariffs would prevent them from offering value-added features and differentiating their brands.

Dr Bimal Jalan, member-secretary, Planning Commission, who headed the panel set up to frame the policy, is for his part confident that the Implementation Committee will take the "correct decisions".

Dr Jalan, who is the Planning Commission's representative in the Telecom Commission, has said his confidence stems from the fact that all the players concerned - including the DoT and other government departments - are keen to promote Internet.

Dr Jalan defended the DoT's role in implementing the committee's recommendations, saying the department has the necessary expertise to decide upon the specifics of the licensing terms.

On the entry of the railways and the power grids, Dr Jalan said the committee is "quite clear" in its recommendation that the surplus network capacities with these agencies be made available for expansion of the country's Internet bandwidth capacity.

"The success of the implementation will be judged by the actual number of Internet users (it produces) in the country. We (the committee) have provided a clear figure of 1.5-2 million users (by 2002) as the target. I am sure the implementation committee will take the decisions required to reach this figure," Dr Jalan said.

- Compiled from the Indian media

Tell us what you think of this story