Tuesday, June 01, 2004

IT: Maran's Hotmail

News from The Hindu

Maran says his job is to
  1. bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas
  2. encouraging usage of computers amongst villagers
  3. launching a free email service based out of India
While the first two ideas are laudable (though very blue sky), I think the third one is entirely misplaced (despite being very specific). The minister's main thrust with respect to the third issue seems to be
  1. encourage the use of *.in domain names
  2. keep India originating email traffic within India, thereby saving money for the country
He says:
The reason I am very keen on this is that we want to promote Indian domains. Every time you want to go to Windows Update or Hotmail dot com, we are going out of the country. That means the traffic is leaving the country. This means we are wasting time, bandwidth and money. We are going to ask all major website holders to have mirror-sites in India, so that you can download India-centric information much faster. This would mean we would use inland traffic and save a lot of money.
It is a good thing to ask major websites to set up mirror sites in India. Maran will have to offer some sops for such mirror hosting, at least in the beginning. However, things like Hotmail, and now Gmail are services where bandwidth is only a minor issue. The email management software and backend systems are more involved and I can't see how someone in BSNL/MTNL (the only entities owned by the Government who will respond to a Government order) will be in a position to match up to the quality delivered by Gmail or Hotmail. Further, the minister seems to think he will recover the costs through advertisements. Indian Internet advertising market is no way large enough to cover these costs. I know.

There are two main reasons why Indian and International companies do not look at India as a natural hosting location, even if Indian users are likely to predominant visitors to such web sites.
  1. The cost of bandwidth in India is huge today.
  2. The cost of acquiring high-end server quality hardware is also high in India.
So it doesn't make any sense for anybody - even an Indian company whose only target audience is Indians in India - to host their site in India. Maran cannot enforce that the cost of bandwidth be brought down. It will happen when Reliance, Bharti, VSNL, Sify and other smaller players start fighting with each other. That is how ISD call rates have come down on par with that in USA. Maran can do a lot however in bringing the cost of high-end server quality computers by talking to the Commerce Ministry and reducing (or eliminating) the excise duty on import of dual/multi-processor pentium motherboards (and similar), RAM, SCSI hard drives, RAID arrays and the like.

Further to this, Indian ISPs will have to implement a properly working Internet Exchange to avoid circuitous network traffic. NIXI - National Internet Exchange of India has been set up for this purpose. Though NIXI has been in existence for quite a while, there has been fair amount of bickering between various organizations involved. As of now, there is peering happening in one location - Noida. The second centre in Mumbai does not yet seem to be operational. Maran can look at speeding this and help set up more NIXI centres across the country so that there is efficient internal traffic.

The minister has to do a lot better by presenting us with plans on how rural digital divide can be bridged and why villagers should even use the computers. Local language computing is so far behind in India. The villager - assuming he is literate enough - needs Tamil, Telugu and Hindi computing. While Unicode is fast becoming a standard worldwide for local language encoding, Tamil Nadu Government is still far behind with its own encoding standard called TAB/TAM. Local language initiatives in Linux have at least started but they are way behind satisfactory levels. In case of Microsoft, Project Basha is at its beginning. In the absence of key infrastructure like quality power supply and quality and affordable telecom/internet connection, no one can make use of a computer in a village. While it may be easier to take internet to villages (through wifi, wifi-max and WiLL), how are we going to get sufficient power to most of our villages? Maran needs to have a long chat with PM Sayeed.

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  1. badri: i have somthing to say on taking computers to villages. Since it is long, i have written in by blog.

  2. icarus,

    it appears u have not chosen to make your blog accessible on public domain. pl do so.

  3. dear anonymous, my blog is open to all. the correct url is http://icarus1972us.blogspot.com