Thursday, August 21, 2008

Broadband on Battery

While booking an air ticket online the other day, there was a power cut just at the point when the gateway was processing the payment from the credit card and the modem shut down. The resulting confusion led to stress as I tried to contact the travel portal, the bank and the airline to get a clear picture regarding ticketing, charging of payment and so on. Online travel portals are not your typical travel agent of old whom you knew by name and had done business with for years. The anonymity of the voice on the other side of the line, the peculiarity of the problem and their obvious inability to understand, let alone help only added to the confusion. This practically undid any advantages that doing transactions online might have provided.

In India, there is a lot of political backing from both the major political formations to increase internet penetration which is among the lowest in the Asia–Pacific region.

India has the lowest Internet penetration rate at 3 percent in the region, according to a survey by U.S.-based digital research firm comScore Inc. According to the survey

- South Korea boasts of the greatest rate of Internet usage, with 65 percent of its population using the Internet in May.

- China clearly has the largest online population with 91.5 million people. The number of monthly unique Internet users in India is just a quarter of that figure at 22.8 million.”

- South Korea has the most active online population, using the Internet an average of 17.4 days per person in May, and dedicating 31.2 hours to viewing 4,546 pages during the month. Indians on the other hand got onto Cyberspace an average of only 11.4 days per person in May and viewed 1,400 pages over 14.7 hours.

Clearly though, the government is not pushing for internet penetration so that citizens can watch videos on Youtube. Rather the intent is to promote e-commerce and e-governance through the internet platform and thereby increase productivity and efficiency. While all that is a good thing, the commensurate development of an infrastructure backbone is missing.

For instance, look at energy and power generation. After all, my story started with the recounting of a power failure in the middle of a commercial transaction. Even as I write this, electricity in India’s national capital goes on and off several times a day.

Anybody who has ever experienced a power cut in India would know empirically that India simply does not produce enough electricity for its needs and will not do so in the foreseeable future although thenational electricity policy envisages power for all by 2012 and per capita availability of power to be increased to more than 1,000 units by 2011-12. With the deadline barely four years away it is impossible that this goal would be ever met.

While industrialization is progressing at a rapid pace, the fact that power generation has not kept up has meant that even relatively less industrialized states like West Bengal which once were power surplus, have power cuts now. In fact, the more industrialized you are, the more is the demand. Maharashtra, for example, faces a deficit of more than 30 per cent In fact, the colloquial term for power cuts “load shedding” has now become part of the country’s rural folk lore.

As I complete typing this piece on a laptop and upload it from a speedy GPRS modem, I remind myself that having a increasingly high tale density of phones and laying strategies to wire up the country to the customer’s doorstep and using Wi Max to connect up the whole country won’t work if we don’t have a proper infra structural backbone. You can’t run a broadband service operating on batteries ! It just does not work !

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