India needs data, but our definition of minimum Internet speeds and FUP is disappointing

It's high time we looked at the Internet as an essential commodity rather than luxury meant only for the elite. Because fundamentally, the Internet has a greater potential to uplift and empower. We need much high minimum Internet speeds.

We're dependent on the Internet in many ways. For work. For entertainment. For staying in touch with loved ones. Sometimes all of these simultaneously. It's high time we looked at the Internet as an essential commodity rather than luxury meant only for the elite. Because fundamentally, the Internet has a greater potential to uplift and empower. We need much high minimum Internet speeds.

Rationing the Internet

Why is it then that our empowerment with access to the richest information we can gain access to is limited under a clause on fair usage policy. I've still never been able to understand the logic a limit of 200 text messages per mobile SIM per month. It's like rationing the quota of messages. Like it was precious resources. You get multiple calls in a day soliciting loans and credit cards. Sometimes weight-loss or even holidays. I'm aware of the DND facility that is mandatory. I've also signed up for it. It hasn't eliminated spam calls has it? It's thanks to products such as Truecaller that we're aware of specific calls to avoid.

It's anyway cheaper to spam users via calls than text messages. So in a way we're holding the bulls horns. In the wrong way. The dedicated 140 series numbers for commercial calling or official spamming service as I'd call it, was a good thing. Users could at least gauge what they were getting into. Now the reason I'm rambling around with spam is because it's a bone of contention. In part, the ability for brands to still spam you is done with the intention of providing advertisers an outlet to release their bottled up energies. So they could unleash their spam messages over millions of telecom customers in India.

In this whole process customers find great deals. So they're happy. Brands find customers, they're happy. Telcos get money, they're happy. It's a win win.

Let it be a win for me too

I still fail to understand the logic behind a fair usage policy. Or having to mandate a minimum Internet speed. If I, as a customer, sign up with my ISP for a 10Mbps connection, I'd expect to get access at a constant speed of 10Mbps every single time I login to my system. Rather than curb my appetite for the Internet, I wish regulators safeguarded me from Internet downtime due to inefficient hardware and control centres. There needs to be a penalty if my Internet goes down frequently. That's quality of service. But given the state of the industry, that's probably a lot to ask.

Battle between price and quality

Unfortunately, the Indian market is a battle between price and quality. As expected, price wins. So in a way when the Indian regulator places a minimum expected speed of 512kbps, there's good intent. But it's pretty dated. We can't be discussing a benchmark of 512kbps in 2016 as the minimum expected speed. Back in 2009, the Finnish Ministry of Transport and Communications mandated 1Mbps as basic Internet access to every citizen in the country. In case you think that's not far off from what consumers in India access, well the term used is legal right. Every Finnish citizen has had the legal right since 2010 to a 1Mbps connection.

The plan was to rollout high speed Internet access over the next 5 years. That's due already. Finland currently ranks in the top 10 when it comes to average Internet speeds. As in Q4 of 2015, Finland measured 16.7Mbps as average speeds.  I strongly believe Indians have a right to a high speed dependable Internet connection. It possible. Yes, the price of Internet connections may go up. But if we've to progress, we would need to prioritise a quality Internet connection over a barebones connection that fails when it drizzles or there's a gust of wind.

Let's relook our priorities, please

The regulator's job isn't easy. And service providers need to offer the best quality. Instead, from communication publicly available, operators prefer further throttling your connection, even below the mandatory 512kbps. To a jaw dropping 64kbps! What do you think can be accomplished in 64kbps, other than a token 'Internet connection established' notification on your computer. It's like fulfilling a legal obligation to serve citizens an Internet connection. Not with an intention to empower them as many would claim, but out of a legal obligation.

After a certain threshold, consumer will see through this. And with newer service providers, there would be better choice, making the overall industry more competitive.

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