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September 5, 1997


In the NIC of time

The National Informatics Centre will soon emerge as a competitor of the Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, providing commercial Internet and video-conferencing services to the private sector in the country. NIC aims at an annual revenue of Rs 1 billion within three years.

At present, Nicnet, the NIC operated network, provides these services only to the public sector or government customers. Indications are the government will allow Nicnet as well to provide these services to the private sector, hitherto monopolised by VSNL.

NIC has invested about Rs 500 million in the project. NIC Special Secretary and Planning Commission Director General Seshagiri has said "We will provide the facility to about 1,700 trading houses including the big shipping companies in the country. About 1,500 shipping agents will be provided connectivity because we are networking all ports."

NIC had organised a video-conference where the cabinet secretary, commerce secretary, representative from the finance ministry and the chief secretary of the state of Rajasthan interacted. It marked the launch of such facility in six state secretariats and eight ministries.

"Initially we will set up the facility in the offices of cabinet secretary, commerce secretary, finance secretary and agriculture secretary. We will soon connect six state secretariats," Seshagiri promised.

All the 27 state secretariats are expected to be connected by NIC within the next two to three months.

"NIC has proved that it can provide services at less than half the price charged by VSNL or DoT," he added. NIC is already providing video-conferencing facility as a pilot project to 15 private companies.

A private company can avail NIC's video-conferencing facility between cities by paying Rs 3,500 per hour. Although NIC has not fixed a rate for international video-conferencing, it is believed, that negotiations are on with DoT to finalise a rate for such a service.

NIC plans to increase the number of franchisees for setting up the VSAT network all over the country. "The franchise system has been a success with us and we will soon advertise for appointing six to seven franchisees to set the VSAT network," he added. Currently NIC has four franchisees including Hughes Escorts Communications Limited.

There are also plans to appoint franchisees for providing the Internet and video-conferencing service through Nicnet. Confirming the move Seshagiri said "We will soon decide about appointing franchisees for providing the services."

About 520 district centres of NIC are being provided video downloading facility besides full Web access where NIC has VSAT with 484 kbps downloading capacity.

NIC has connected about 3,000 organisations with Internet and has issued 25,000 address. NIC's text-only access to the Internet can be had at Rs 2,750 per annum. This allows users 100 pages of interaction per month. "We have not subsidised, we have a mark-up which is being ploughed back into the organisation as R&D."

It has 21 'very high-speed single channel per carrier very small aperture terminals' of up to 2mbps per node. These VSATs with very marginal investment can be converted to DAMA or other equivalent technologies to get 'hubless' connectivity.

Currently, the Nicnet services are open to the private sector only in the pursuance of approved promotional activities like custom computerisation and electronic data interface done by NIC. In order to access the computer, 150 customs agents, who are private operators, have been given connectivity through Nicnet. About 2,000 customs agents are expected to get connectivity in the second phase, Seshagiri added.

Nicnet will provide the services with the help of Ku band VSAT, INSAT-2C, INTESAT and 128 kbps lines.

NIC is also providing multimedia networks, to 450 public and private engineering colleges through VSAT to assist in CAD/CAM/CIM distance education.

- Compiled from the Indian media

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