I spend a lot of time on the internet. It’s something I do at my work place and it’s something I need to do at home. I like to think that I've begun to appreciate the quality of internet connectivity we have today, especially when I compare it to in the not-so-good ‘ol days.
The Good ‘Ol Days
I first accessed the internet in the mid 90s through a VSNL student’s account, which was nothing more than a Unix shell account. Think about browsing the web, sending mails, chatting with an interface that looks very much like a terminal window in a Linux distribution. We’ve come a long way since the days of Rs. 15,000 for 500 hours of TCP/IP (graphical internet access) which didn’t even include the telephone bill. For those who were stuck with shell accounts, we had Shellshock. This link should give you an idea of the internet charges back then. Rates for internet access and telephone charges were much higher than they are today. Typically, you would shell out close to Rs. 40 for an hour of internet access with speeds peaking at 7 kB/s. VSNL was the sole ISP around then. Half of the Rs. 40 would go to VSNL for the internet connectivity and the other half to MTNL for using the phone line. A GPRS connection on a mobile phone is cheaper and more capable than that was.
High speeds are here and so are the download caps
The landscape changed after that. ISPs such as ETH started promoting themselves by offering coupons and free internet access for a couple of hours (still not including the telephone charges) to try and get more people interested. These promotions took place through newspapers and magazines. Another one of these ISPs was Caltiger, which provided ad-supported free internet access. When this happened, internet charges started dropping but telephone charges continued to be as they were. I think ISPs such as MTNL, which also run the telephone network, could have easily chosen to reduce telephone rates to improve internet adoption rates, but they didn't. As a result of this delay, most users in India would only gain access at home only after 2002 or so. This was around the time broadband started kicking in the metros whereas the rural areas got access to dialup internet.
Broadband has landed
Broadband soon started invading and people started moving away from dial-up internet providers. In major cities, local cable TV providers started setting up Ethernet cables across rooftops providing connections to households. With the local cable-wallahs came cheaper rates, higher speeds but also unreliability. Frequent disconnections and fluctuating speeds were constantly present. Internet connectivity did eventually became cheaper and mainstream.
Year(s) of Fraudband
Today, there are plenty of ISPs and schemes to choose from. The impression I get as a consumer is that internet connecitivty speeds are definitely improving, but my question is why aren’t the download caps decreasing or being made realistic? Why is bandwidth sold like peanuts? Almost every single ISP out here has great speeds to offer, with plans starting from as low as 256kbps going right up to 10Mbps. With almost each one of these plans is a equally strict download cap.
I personally feel that the internet has much more content than one can consume in a lifetime, so why limit people's freedom? Videos and photos are part of this content and require a lot of bandwidth. For example, if I were choose a 2 Mbps plan with a 5 GB download limit and spend say close to Rs. 700 for it, it would be technically possible to consume that much bandwidth within a six hour period if I were to stream say a high quality video stream, or maybe download a Linux distribution. Has internet access really become such an expensive service?
With download limits like these, customers can only be extra careful about what they browse and what they download. This means that you're forcing people to do the bare essential bits on the internet – browse a little, chat with your friends on Facebook, check your mails and logout. The web is much bigger than that. This problem isn't only limited to India. Canadians had a similar situation where ISPs set caps of between 25 GB and 80 GB. Those are still caps that one can work with, 4 GB and 5 GB caps aren't.
Is bandwidth that expensive?
Most of the other ISPs around the world are already providing plans that are several times faster than ours. We hear so much about new internet backbone lines being setup from different parts of the country to others. If that is the case, why are internet rates not getting cheaper? If bandwidth really is as expensive as ISPs make it to be, then how is it that ISPs across the board decide to drop prices the moment a competitve ISP decides to double their speeds?
I think we're moving in the right direction and things have definitely improved from the days of dialup. Things are getting better, but I'm afraid they aren't improving fast enough. A change in mindset from ISPs and also us, the consumers, is probably what needs to change the most.