Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Reflections and Rants from India-1

Spoiler Alert – Some observations, mostly a long rant !!

Not that I would be missed a lot, but a big reason for the “enormous” delay in getting
online was my total inability to get a high speed internet connection at home. The "smiling" icon on the left is of Iqara communications. Amit Varma of India Uncut makes a very valid point when he says, "

Telephones

In the 1980s, it would take you years to get a telephone in India.
Today, it takes anything from a day to a week.
Q: What has changed?
Ans: Competition.

That's why competition is a good thing, even if the competition keeps messing up. So Tata Indicom may give me sucky service and Reliance may hassle me in different ways, but I have options. And it's because all these options exist that even MTNL's service is vastly better than in the pre-liberalisation days. Competition rocks.

And even though liberalisation is no panacea, without it, I wouldn't be online right now and typing this. Would you be reading this?

However, the problem in mid to small centers in India is that a government monopoly in services has been replaced by a private monopoly. Companies like iqara are the only way of getting high speed connections in several residences at the place where I am in India. I spoke with several iqara customers and they told me of similar horror stories with iqara. What happened is as follows,

Day 1. iqara is called and iqara dude comes home, promises that connection would be up within 2 or 3 days.

Day 4. On the third day, there is no iqara dude(s) and iqara is called again; surprise of surprise, iqara sales (the original people who were so "helpful" in sending their sales representative) say this is a problem which iqara technical can handle. Hence, call is transferred and no one picks up the phone for four days running.

Day 8. I land up at the iqara office and shout at the sales people and threaten legal action. They give me a convoluted explanation of why this delay has occured but promise that "something would be done". Day 8 goes by and still nothing is done.

Day 9. I again land up at the iqara office and demand the money (iqara asks for the installation money and the first month's fee). iqara says this decision is only taken by the regional office and they blame everyone (including me by saying generally it takes 10 or 15 days to get it started). I demand to see the office in charge and when I finally create a scene, someone comes out and says definitely something would be done in the next three days, but not sooner.

Day 12. Ethernet cable and a cable modem are installed but the cable modem turns out to be defective.

Day 13. A correct cable modem is delivered but the appropriate MAC is not able to be registered on the iqara network. I again vent out in frustration (this time to the iqara people in Mumbai).

Day 15. Finally, I am up and running......

Now, my saga of getting internet connection could be a one off, but what I have observed is that more that India has changed, more it has remained the same. It is not a problem with iqara, it has been a recurring situation with wherever I have gone. There is a definite spring in everyone's step but if we want to become a developed economy like United States, it is critical that we understand the importance of value and service. Would it be appropriate if the iqara dude who promised me an internet connection in three days is promised by the doctor that yes, dude, u have some problems in your stomach, if I operate on you, maybe you will get all right in 3 days, maybe in 15 days but would be so nice to suffer in the time being ?
Competition is good but it has to be true competition, not a cabal dictating terms.

Shrinathji is a popular religious place for Vaishanvas. Situated in Rajasthan, around 45 kilometers North of Udaipur, it is located on NH-8. There are several ways to reach this place, with bus service from Ahmedabad or Mumbai being the most popular. There are also a couple of highways to reach here, thus providing choice. With the Golden Quadrilateral project, the road quality between Ahmedabad and Shrinathji has been improved tremendously, thus all bus operators – both State owned and private take that route. The bus journey is on a very comfortable Volvo bus and where it used to take a very bumpy, uncomfortable 8 hours to travel between Ahmedabad and Shrinathji, the time has come down a very comfortable 5 hours. When I travelled on the route four years back, I used to pay around 360 rupees for a round trip. I was expecting to pay more this time around since I was travelling on sections of a toll road and in a far better bus. However, I was shocked when I was quoted 1100 rupees for a round trip, an increase of nearly 205%. I decided to do some research with other private operators and each one of them quoted the same amount - 1100 for a round trip. Now, if we contrast this to a similar situation in United States. In 2001, there was just one bus service between Washington DC and New York - The Greyhound bus service. The round trip was for 55 dollars in 2001 and the journey was comfortable, nothing special. Greyhound is not exactly known for superior service anyways. Over the next three years, more and more private operators took to the road since people did not like to drive on the crowded NJ Turnpike. With more and more competition, the price was the only difference between the different operators, hence, each operator strived to offer lower prices. Greyhound was also forced to join the pricing war and today, you can travel between DC and NYC on a variety of time slots with prices as low as 35 dollars for a round trip, a decrease of 36% over four years !

Now, it is not an apple to apple comparison between the two scenarios, but the point I am alluding is that somehow market forces are not shaping up to provide consumers in India real freedom of choice.

2 Comments:

Blogger parwana said...

Just read only the first part of ur blog where u have mentioned abt IQARA's service procedure.

Want to take this opportunity to mention abt reliance infocomm earning money by hiding details.

Until the month gets over, they don't reveal how much total amount the customer has accumulated and just mention about the unbilled about i.e. the amount that hasn't been added to my unknown current bill (which is as good as nothing).

1/05/2006 3:42 AM  
Blogger The Greatest Hokie Ever !! said...

[Parwana] - I understand your sentiments, Parwana. I took a prepaid cell from Hutch and they have hit me with several "hidden" charges, that is why even though we are seeing progress here in India, customer satisfaction levels are nowhere close to where should be.

Thanks for your comments

1/09/2006 11:31 PM  

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