Overpriced Internet and Low Speeds Prevent Broadband Growth in India

In the area of broadband, India has a lot of catching up to do. According to Point Topic, India has fewer broadband connections than Hong Kong, a region it out-populates by nearly a billion people. Broadband penetration is estimated to be around 0.5% in India. By December 2008, India has only 5.52 million broadband subscribers, far short of the target of 9 million by 2010 set by the broadband policy in 2008.

Internet subscribers stood at 12.85 million by the quarter ending 31st December 2008 as compared to 12.24 million during the preceding quarter registering an increase of just 0.31% approx, according to TRAI. Broadband penetration is estimated to be at 0.5% inIndia, and the country added only 52,000 broadband connections between September 2008 and December 2008. By December 2008,India has only 5.52 million broadband subscribers, far short of the target of 9 million by 2010 set by the broadband policy in 2007.

Besides this, several neighboring countries includingChina,South KoreaandMalaysiaare far ahead ofIndiain the broadband penetration.Indiahas 0.2 broadband connections per 100 persons, whileSouth Koreaand evenChinahave much better penetration numbers with 27.4 and 3.7 respectively.

Causes for These Discouraging Figures:
Despite the 19% jump in urban domestic Internet usage, home access is still a novelty inIndia. This is true especially in the case of broadband. The two biggest barriers for the growth of the broadband inIndia are affordability and the quality. Broadband inIndia is very expensive when compared to Western Europe andUSA.

A 3 MBPS speed unlimited download broadband connection in US is available from a premier ISP like Verizon at $29.99 or Rs.1200 per month. A 512 KBPS speed, unlimited download Internet connection from VSNL or Airtel or Reliance is available from Rs. 1499 or $37.5 to Rs.1799 or $45 per month. This is 6 times slower and 25 to 50 percent costlier than in US. InIndia, the monthly charge for a broadband connection accounts to 47 to 56 percent of the per capita income*, while it is less than 1 percent in theUSA.

There should be no reason for such overpricing inIndia. Especially, where the costs are a fraction of wages in theUS- the minimum wage in US is approximately Rs.327 per hour, where as inIndia, it is only around Rs.10. Most Internet service providers in theUSAbuilt their infrastructure when the telecom equipment prices were at their peak several years back. Right now, Indian ISPs are able to purchase equipment at far lesser prices. Unlike earlier, the last few years saw an abundance of capital for Indian companies with booming equity markets and hundreds of FII’s and Private Equity companies actively investing in India. It is also unlikely that Indian ISPs are paying higher costs for high speed Internet links to connect to the Internet worldwide.

Essentially the ISPs have not passed the benefits of lower operating costs inIndiato the customers. Until such profiteering is indulged by ISPs, Internet prices will be beyond the reach of most Indian and Internet usage will not become common. You have to remember that mobile usage became viable for the common man only after both the mobile equipment prices and the mobile usage charges became one of the cheapest in the world. That led to the rapid growth of mobile users.

The worrying aspect of the disappointing Internet growth inIndiais that it will result in lagging of eCommerce inIndia. This would also lead to loss of job opportunities in the new age industries in a country aggressively looking to create jobs. Further, it would make the Indian eCommerce market lag not only against developed countries but also against the Asian ones.

* Nominal per capita incomes ofIndiaand US are taken as $1,043 and $47,025 respectively, according to IMF – 2008.

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