My friend, Arun Mehta, has some advice for the public sector telecom providers. They are losing customers. Arun believes that their approach is wrong and that they should see the opportunity in using their last mile access for affordable internet connectivity. I reproduce (with his permission) his recent contribution to the india-gii mailing list.
In the May editorial of Voice and Data, Ibrahim points out that BSNL lost 4.4 million landline customers in 2007-8 alone, while MTNL lost over 200,000 just in Mumbai and Delhi in the same time. Given their vast investments in buried copper, and an army of linesmen, who are not needed for mobile connectivity, they are in a jam. Going by the BSNL advertising campaign — unprecedented and huge, by the way — they seem to have two strategies to counter this:
- Somehow sell the idea that a landline makes you respectable.
The Bollywood star Preity Zinta figures in this ad, in which she refuses to marry someone who doesn’t have a landline. Hopeless cause, IMO. In my perception, people sometimes seem a bit disappointed when you give them the landline number instead of the mobile, as if you didn’t trust them enough.
- Convince people to get broadband over DSL, which, as the editorial points out isn’t working.
For this to work, they need to encourage the Internet, instead of placing obstacles in its path. They should realise that the future is the Internet, not stupid voice-centered telephony, and where there is a conflict, go with the former. Towards this end, they should take a fresh look at the recommendations below, some of which we have only been making for the last 15 years or so (feel free to add to the list):
- get rid of all restrictions on Internet telephony, the killer app for the illiterate and poor.
- stop censoring the Internet, and restricting the use of technologies such as encryption
- take action against those sending spam from India
- allow the nation to have a truly independent regulator, with genuine teeth