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BSNL announces free nightly calls. Cool story bro. Can we fix the sorry broadband service too?

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I remember getting unlimited night calls packs on my mobile when I first got a mobile over a decade ago (yes, I was young then and I’m even younger now). At that time, telcos offered not only unlimited night calls but also unlimited night SMSes for dirt cheap when SMSes were the big thing. After a while, private players like Reliance entered the landline market and then there were wireless landlines from Tata Telecom and others.

Today, more than a decade later, BSNL has started offering free unlimited calling from landlines to anywhere in India (landlines and mobiles), which will come into effect from May 1. The unlimited calling scheme will work during 9pm and 7am. This service will be applicable for 6 months to check for response and will be reviewed post response.

Anupam Shrivastava, CMD of BSNL told HT that despite the impact on revenues, the call rate (number of people making calls) may go up from 10% to 15% with this offer; if this added customers to BSNL’s service, it would be “worth the attempt”.

Hidden features in your BSNL landlines

Were you surprised by this move? (BSNL STILL OFFERS DIAL UP INTERNET!) Don’t be. Did you know that apparently, since 2003, BSNL has been offering services like call waiting, speed dialing, hot line feature, call forwarding, reminder calls at a fixed time, call hunting (users owning more than one telephone line can get incoming calls transferred to whichever line is free, in case one line is engaged on a call), caller identification, calling line announcement (dial 164 and listen to your own/PCO number from which you made a call, in case y’know, you forgot you had a landline number), e-locking for STD/ISD and call conferencing.

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Although BSNL/MTNL landlines take up a major chunk of landline phone subscribers in India, it goes without saying that the landline usage in the country has been on the decline for quite some time now. This move also comes at a time when the government is considering shutting down its metro telecom provider MTNL because it is no longer healthy. MTNL reported another loss of Rs 730.83 crore at the end of December 2014 quarter, however it was down 12.4% from Rs 834.22 crore loss in the previous quarter.

BSNL-MTNL to merge or will MTNL shut down?

In September last year, Department of Telecom was considering de-listing MTNL and merging it into BSNL or listing BSNL and then finalizing the merger swap ratio based on the valuation of the two companies. The government is likely to run with the first option, as BSNL has accumulated losses upwards of Rs 30,000 crore which would make it difficult to get a decent valuation for the company on its own. MTNL is also currently facing Rs 14,600 crore in debt, a problem for the DoT since BSNL is unlikely to take on MTNL’s debts post-merger. However, MTNL is currently expecting a Rs 4,534 crore refund from DoT for its share of 4G airwaves and is also planning to surrender its CDMA rights in the 800MHz band to further reduce debt.

The numbers reveal the complete picture:

According to TRAI, the total number of landline wired connections in India are:

bsnl data

So its not just urban but also rural subscribers on the decline.

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Broadband in India is a joke

The TRAI still considers broadband to be at a speed of 512kbps, upgraded from 256 kbps initially. BSNL Broadband, at speeds given below with its data caps is not even a competitor in the game. What is happening under Digital India? Under the initiative, as of April, 20,000 villages have been connected to broadband services under the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) plan. NOFN was also to be renamed to BharatNet. The original plan which was to provide 100 Mbps connectivity to gram panchayats has been allegedly revised to provide between 2-10 mbps connections. So far, only 8% of the initial target has been achieved in 4 years. Could this money have been spent on bettering existing infrastructure and services? Possibly.

The focus of the Digital India programme is to enable digital infrastructure for every citizen with high speed internet in all Gram Panchayats, sharable privates spaces in a public cloud, digital identity for citizens etc., bring governance and services on demand with single window access to all government departments, real time online availability of government services, making transaction above a threshold cashless etc., and digitally empowering citizens with universally accessible digital resources, support for Indic languages, availability of government documents/certificates online, collaborative and participative governance etc.

Again, according to TRAI, the top five wired broadband service providers in India are:

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No change in the number of BSNL broadband subscribers (even MTNL shows minor changes) when the rest of the players are either seeing an increase or decrease?! How is BSNL retaining customers with these broadband plans? It offers data caps 8GB on a 2Mbps connection (512Kbps beyond 8GB), 6GB on a 1Mbps connection (512Kbps beyond) and 150GB (at a whopping Rs 3,500/month) on 2Mbps (512Kbps beyond). If you use your 2Mbps to download something at full speed (yes, I hope so), you will have utilised 8GB in ~9 hours flat. You are expected to drag this for a month, and if not, suffer at 1/4th the speed you actually bought that broadband for.

Compare this with other players:

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BSNL asks its users to pay Rs 999 for 4Mbps till 8GB and then 512 Kbps after that, another plan at Rs 2,799 per month for 4Mbps upto 30GB with at least 2Mbps beyond that, but obviously expensive. You Broadband gives 10Mbps for 3 months and 27GB (after which 512Kbps) at Rs 2,382 for THREE months. You Broadband offers clear distinction in their “unlimited” and “dual speed” plans. It also offers MB-limit plans where, at 4Mbps, users get 18GB of data for 3 months at Rs 1674, 45GB for 6 months at Rs 3199 and 125GB for 12 months at Rs 5,999. Why anyone would want to use data-capped internet is beyond me, but at least You Broadband provides clear distinction.

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Airtel, on the other hand, offers 2Mbps FUP for 5GB data limit at Rs 699 per month, after which speeds drop to 512Kbps (good luck!). Similarly, Airtel users can shell out Rs 200 more to get 2Mbps at a data cap of 20GB at Rs 799 per month. Even more ridiculous is this plan where you spend Rs 649 a month for 4Mbps with a data limit of just 10GB after which, good luck trying to load a website at 512Kbps.

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ACT Broadband takes the cake at this. It doesn’t HAVE any non-FUP plans (goodbye users!). The most basic plan is for Rs 410 per month at 1Mbps with a 30GB data limit. What after that? 512Kbps of course. This plan is its saving grace: A 100Mbps plan for 200GB of downloads (after which speed dropped to a nice 4Mbps) at Rs 2,799 per month. You Broadband becomes cost effective here by offering a 100Mbps line for Rs 1,699 and 200GB download limit for one month. But speeds would drop to 1Mbps after that. But it is still cost effective. But the sweetest provider is Vovi Broadband (reliable, anyone?) which offers 10mbps for Rs 999 per month at NO FUP WHATSOEVER!

If these are the standards we are setting for broadband in the country, where do we expect Make in India to stand at?

With that, I rest my case.

Image Credit: Flickr user Garghe

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Written By

I'm a MediaNama alumna from 2015-16 (remember TinyOwl?) now back to cover e-services like food and grocery delivery, app based transport and policies, platforms and media in India.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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