Friday, June 19, 2015

From Consumers to Producers - The Indian Story - Part 4 - The Internet

The Internet

I remember, in 1996, in a meeting, a client showed me the Internet. We browsed through Yahoo, one of the most popular websites and search engines at that time. I was amazed that I could just search for any subject and get so much information. I immediately wanted get it on my computer at home, but the only service provider at that time was VSNL - Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited and the cost was Rs.15000 for 100 hours! But very soon, on demand, the rates were brought down to an affordable Rs.1500 per 100 hours of browsing. There was, of course, a catch here. First, you needed to buy an external modem (about Rs.4000/-) and connect it to the phone line to connect to the Internet. There were no schemes or data packages other than the one mentioned. So if you did 100 hours of browsing, it translated to 200 phone calls, which in turn meant a whopping telephone bill. And I did get a bill of about Rs.4000/- which is like getting a bill of about Rs.30000/- now!

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The best thing to do then, was to visit Internet Cafes, which had cropped up in a number of places in all localities. They allowed us to browse for about Rs.30 to Rs.40 per hour. This was much cheaper and we mostly used the Internet to exchange emails, or hunt for jobs.To save on time we spent on the Internet and also save money, we used to type our messages/content on a text file and carry it with us on a floppy, CD or a pen drive, so we got to browse more and spend less time typing. Sabeer Bhatia, who made Hotmail and then sold it to Microsoft was like God to many who had started living on the Internet. Almost everyone my age will have a Hotmail and a Yahoo ID.

The Internet used to 'come' in our computers through an external modem. To connect to the Internet, we had to double-click on the modem icon, and click on the 'Connect' button. Then after a series of clicks we used to get connected. We used a 56.6 Kbps (Kilo Bytes per second) modem, meaning, the maximum speed we could attain was 56.6 Kbps, but the maximum that I had ever got during that time was 44.1 Kbps. The art of designing websites was rather new, so people used heavy graphics randomly. I remember, I had waited almost an hour for the University of Mumbai's Home page to 'appear' on the screen. The logo used was 2 MB in file size!!!

We also had a service provider for some time called Caltiger (Ever heard of this one?) which offered FREE Internet services. The Kolkata based organisation shut down in 2003 because their free Internet services did not really work out. The only hitch with Caltiger was that the top of the screen had advertisements; but still, you could at least get the Internet free.

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The rest, of course is history. The telephone network became digital, we got DSL modems allowing much higher speeds. Within a short time, from 44 Kbps, we could get Internet speeds of 1 Mbps at home, and much faster in organisations which could afford better hardware. Then of course came the WiFi routers, and we are no longer confined to the chair at the computer for accessing the Internet. The services too became cheaper and affordable, with so many data plans to choose from.

Internet on the mobile telephone appeared much later, and with 2G and then 3G services, everyone could connect to the Internet. (Do read my earlier post about Reliance Mobiles by going to this link: In India, more than 40% of those having mobile phones connect to the Internet exclusively using mobiles! This itself has been a major factor in us the consumers, becoming producers of content. In fact, though the computers became common in the 90's they still did not reach a large section of the population, because even though the computers became much cheaper and faster, computers still remained expensive enough to many. Moreover, you needed electricity to run a computer, which was not a luxury many had.

But more of that in my next post. Till then, happy surfing.