Thursday, December 29, 2005

Terrorist attack in IISc?

From Nanopolitan: nanopolitan: Terrorist attack in IISc

Yesterday night I was horrified to watch in the news a gun attack at IISc, where a conference on Operations Research was going on. The news anchors couldn't immediately get an idea on whether it was a crazy loony shooting someone or a calculated assassination attempt or an act of terrorism.

Subsequent details showed that an AK47 type automatic rifle was used, indicating that this is a terrorist attack aimed at creating terror and confusion amongst the researchers and teachers at premiere institutions in India.

Abi describes the scene first hand.

I offer my condolences to Prof. MC Puri's family. I hope other injured scientists recover speedily and survive this attack.

We hope that the police will act swiftly and nab the culprits and also catch the planners behind this act.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

ICC calls meet for DD rollback

Hindustan Times writes: ICC calls meet for DD rollback

ICC is organizing a meeting in Dubai on January 11 to discuss the Indian Government's satellite television uplinking policy which forces private satellite channels to share the cricket feed with the state run Doordarshan terrestrial channels.

My view is that Indian Government may not be in a position to force satellite channels to share specified rights as it may violate some International covenants. For example, a satellite channel may not even have bought the terrestrial rights. Doordarshan then cannot force that satellite channel to share the feed for terrestrial broadcasts.

The concerned foreign cricket board can demand Doordarshan to pay cash for terrestrial broadcasts, as opposed to Doordarshan's favourite method of revenue sharing. Some cricket board will have to test Doordarshan and Indian Government in a court. It cannot be done by one person (satellite broadcaster) alone.

Monday, December 19, 2005

India's Looming IT Labor Shortage

From Business Week Online: India's Looming IT Labor Shortage

Article talks about the McKinsey Global Institute and Nasscom study on what could go wrong with India's quest for IT supremacy in the world.

We need to overhaul the education system, produce more qualified, employable engineers, and improve on the country's infrastructure, says the report.

I hope Indian Government acts on the study's findings, and finds the money required to invest in education and infrastructure.

All along, I hope they will also keep the poor people in mind and spend sufficient monies on them so that they are pulled up sufficiently. Rural education and job creation are also the keys. Otherwise, there will be two Indias at loggerheads against each other resulting in a violent armed struggle.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Free Trade vs Trade Barriers

Ramnath, while criticising P.Chidambaram, presents the views of Arvind Panagariya, Professor of Economics at Columbia University, on trade barriers and his advice to the developing countries.

Today's The Hindu has a borrowed piece from The Guardian, written by Guardian's economics editor, Larry Elliott. It will provide an alternate viewpoint, one that uses the 18th century USA as an example.

Monday, December 12, 2005

New telecast bid from BCCI

The new board of BCCI has cancelled all previous television rights tenders and is expected to release a fresh tender today. The decision will be made within a week - by next Monday, BCCI's Vice President Lalit Modi announced in an interview in NDTV.

Lalit Modi seemed to indicate that in the new tender process they will make more money than the previous bid by Zee Sports, which was challenged by ESPN in court, bid was cancelled by Dalmiya controlled board, Zee went to court and so on.

I doubt if BCCI will make more money this time around. Whoever wins the bid will have to deal with sharing the terrestrial feed with Doordarshan (which itself is being challenged by Ten Sports in Mumbai High Court). This would result in drastic reduction in subscription revenue and advertising revenue for the satellite broadcaster.

I feel that Zee has a lot to gain - much more than ESPN Star - by winning this bid. Therefore, chances are that they may bid more than what they did in the past. The bid conditions will be simple enough to allow for everyone including Zee, TWI and Nimbus as well.

I would prefer Zee if they are ready to generate local language feeds - in Tamil, Bengali, and then eventually Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Telugu, Kannada etc. They are already generating Tamil and Bengali feeds for the ongoing India-Sri Lanka Test series.

Let us wait and watch.

Ten Sports takes Indian Govt. to court

Finally a legal test for the new regulations brought on by the government of India on sharing cricket feeds with Doordarshan. Ten Sports has taken the I&B Ministry to Bombay High Court, "challenging the guidelines issued last month as a case of unjust enrichment for Prasar Bharati."

Ten Sports is more serious than ESPN Star, since the Indian tour of Pakistan is starting next month, and after an England touring us, India will be travelling to West Indies. Ten Sports owns the rights to matches played in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and West Indies.

Ideally, it will be better for ESPN Star to join in the suit. It would be better for Zee and Sony to also join in to put up a joint opposition.

However it appears that Zee is not much worried about the govt. regulation.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Cricket on worldspace radio!

In a press release issued by Worldspace India, they have talked about offering a dedicated sports radio channel, branded "PLAY", in their digital satellite radio platform.

The content will be provided by BBC, Radio Midday (GO 92.5 FM in Mumbai) and TWI.

If you have to run this channel successfully in India, you would have to get access to live audio commentary of cricket matches, which has primarily been the preserve of All India Radio.

In addition, this channel will have to get audio broadcast rights to Grandslam tennis events, World Cup football, several hockey matches, round-the-clock sports news, interviews and so on.

TWI can offer excellent content here. BBC will provide global sports news content. Radio Midday is expected to pitch in with Indian sports content.

I have the worldspace radio at home, but haven't taken the paid subscription deal. I will now take up the subscription just for this sports channel (and perhaps also the 24 hour Carnatic channel).

Ehsan Mani to meet Priyaranjan Das Munshi

Besides the private sports broadcasters in India, the cricket boards around the world are unhappy at the Indian Government's decision to enforce terrestrial broadcasting of cricket through Doordarshan. These regulations were notified and they come into effect from December 2nd, from the 1st Day of the 1st cricket Test between India and Sri Lanka.

However unlike the private Indian broadcasters, the world cricket bodies can only complain. They have no locus standi in fighting it out. However the Indian companies have a strong legal platform to fight Indian Government in the courts.

Ehsan Mani, President of ICC is supposed to meet Indian Information and Broadcasting Minister Priyaranjan Das Munshi.

However, I am afraid Das Munshi is probably not even aware of the issues concerned. When the new guidelines came up, the minister responsible was Jayapal Reddy. Immediately after the regulations were brought on, Jayapal Reddy was pushed to some insignificant ministry.

The rumours are that the real person behind this move is the Minister for Telecommunications and IT - Dayanidhi Maran. Let me reiterate that these are only rumours. The reason attributed is that Maran has strong interests in a Television network - Sun TV - run by his brother in south India. The only strong competition for this network in terms of grabbing advertising monies in South India is sports broadcasters. By ensuring that sports broadcasts are made available on free-to-air television like Doordarshan, whose ability to grab advertisement money is rather limited, Sun TV will have access to more advertisement income.

Secondly, Sun TV group also has distribution interests - through SCV, a cable distribution company. ESPN, Star, Zee, Sony etc. constantly keep fighting with cable distribution companies on the back of strong cricket rights they hold - in forcing the distributor to disclose honest numbers on number of households they distribute to, and also increasing the per house fee. By taking the cricket feed to Doordarshan - which is free-to-air - SCV and other cable companies benefit immediately.

There may not be any truth behind these rumours. Nevertheless I am worried about the conflict of interests. The cabinet must be above suspicion.

Cricket Telecast Issues

Several changes in the last few days that need to be recorded here.

1. BCCI administration changed, as Sharad Pawar wins defeating Jagmohan Dalmiya camp's Ranbir Singh Mahendra. BCCI is embroiled in a lawsuit on cricket television rights.

2. Zee TV was awarded satellite telecast rights for the ongoing India-Sri Lanka Test series, after the Delhi High Court judges Justice M K Sharma and R C Chopra ordered the BCCI that a decision be made in an open bidding by 1st December. The first Test was to start on 2nd December. Accordingly, bids were invited till 1300 hrs on 1st December and the tender was decided by 1400 hrs. Zee outbid all the others.

However, the bid was only for satellite television rights in India and overseas rights. Prasar Bharati had already been promised terrestrial rights and BCCI agreed to abide by the same - on a revenue share basis.

TWI produces the series while Nimbus will handle the overseas sales of the feed (on a revenue share basis).

Dalmiya apparently is surprised by the fact that Zee won the bid. It is time Dalmiya stops wondering and gets on with his life.

3. The long term problem: My feeling is that the current BCCI administration will ask for withdrawal of all the cases, a fresh tender to be called for with lighter restrictions (thereby allowing Zee to bid), and then let the decision be made transparently. The bid value will come down considerably since the Indian Government has stipulated that the terrestrial feed be given to Doordarshan. Watch the next post.

We will await the developemtns.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

DD demands money to telecast women's cricket

New Indian Express reports DD telecasts women's cricket - for a price

The public broadcaster is desperate to show men's cricket, it has arm twisted the Government to change the rules. The rules have been changed.

But... Prasar Bharati feels there is no public interest in women's cricket. (They may be right there!) So they will not show women's cricket. But... if the WCAI pays them money, then they will show the matches on TV.

Will the new I&B minister look in to this?

Yet another BCCI telecast mess

Business Standard reports: BCCI case advanced to facilitate bidding

The greedy BCCI is in perpetual trouble. It had just worked out a deal with Prasar Bharati for telecasting the Sri Lanka 7 South Africa ODIs. This was because it had asked for telecast bid for the next four years, and rigged the bid terms so that Zee will be made ineligible.

Though one can say that the rights owner has the right to set any terms for inviting telecast tender, the rights will have to be reasonable and non-discriminatory to allow fair competition. For example, BCCI cannot demand that any company name starting with initial 'Z' should not bid.

Zee has questioned the bid terms on which it has been disallowed in Delhi High Court. The case is dragging. The ODIs are almost over. The Tests with Sri Lanka will start next month, starting December 2nd.

Since there is no resolution in the case, and the next hearing is only on December 1st, chances are that Prasar Bharati will get it as usual.

And the case will drag on.

However, in the meantime, there has been a change in the government policy on sports broadcasts. So Prasar Bharati may actually not be interested in buying the BCCI rights. Why bother promising a certain amount of money to BCCI, then take the headache of organizing the production, marketing etc.? You could also allow a private operator to acuiqre it, but then by law he is forced to share the feed with Prasar Bharati anyway on a revenue share basis?

Let us see...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Prasar Bharati asked to settle footage dispute

PTI news item via Outlook:
Settle footage dispute with TV channels: HC to Prasar Bharti

I had written earlier about the dispute between Prasar Bharati and private news channels regarding using cricket footage from Prasar Bharati. Prasar Bharati went to Delhi High Court to restrain private TV channels from taking the dirty feed from Prasar Bharati live broadcasts and building a program around it. The court gave a temporary restraining order, but seems to have told Prasar Bharati today to attempt an out of court settlement with the private channels.

Private channels contend (rather unjustifiably) that they should be allowed to use as many minutes as they want from the Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati's footage. Some have pulled as much 15 minutes of footage in a day. India TV's counsel Pratibha M Singh seems to have argued that "the use of excerpts of cricket matches by India TV in its news bulletins did not amount to copyright infringement as it was a bonafide act of fair dealing." This seems to me to be a very strange argument. How this is a bonafide act of fair dealing is unclear to me. It is straightforward stealing of the feed.

She also seems to have questioned Prasar Bharati's claim of exclusive ownership by saying "there was no material on record to establish that Prasar Bharti had exclusive rights of the cricketing event." This is quite a bit of nonsense, since BCCI owns the event and has signed an agreement of exclusivity with Prasar Bharati.

I think she should read up her law book again before arguing cases like this in a High Court. She seems to have argued further:
Terming the conditions imposed by Prasar Bharti on the quantity of footage that could be used by private TV channels in their news bulletins as illegal, Singh had said "it does not have any sanction of law".
A feed owner can very well determine how others can use the feed. Why the lawyer thinks such conditions are illegal is unclear to me.

However, the situation in India is slightly different. The Government has just notified that all cricket events in India must be shared with the public broadcaster. Since the Government has cared very little for private enterprises, investment by third parties etc., it is now left to the private channels (non-sports) to lobby to allow for any amount of feed stealing by private channels as well.

After all, in the socialistic system we are trying to build, the overall public good (even if it comes at the cost of massive losses to private individuals and organizations) is paramount. Why allow only the public broadcaster to make all the money? Let all websites carry snippets of video - for free. Let all TV channels show programs built around the dirty feed. Let us have a 'free for all' new deal.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Downlink policy harsh on sports and international news channels

A day after the government announced its downlinking policy, talks to a few television channel people: Downlink policy harsh on sports and international news channels

Crushed by the Murdoch juggernaut

Mike Marqusee writes in The Hindu Sunday Magazine: Crushed by the Murdoch juggernaut

Marqusee is a traditional left winger. However I do agree with his main point about a Murdoch monopoly on world cricket.

In Australia - the birthland of Murdoch - however, it is his bitter enemy and close partner in business Kerry Packer who controls the mainstream cricket. But Packer and Murdoch jointly own Foxtel network which shows all the other cricket not shown in Packer's Channel 9.

In India, the battle for cricket telecast is waged by several including Subash Chandra and Murdoch. However, the Indian Government has stumped them all with its Channel Downlinking Notification Guidelines.

The Brits however are the people most affected by Murdoch. They can't anymore watch home Test series on free-to-air TV. Overseas Tests and all One-day Internationals have been only on pay TV since BBC lost interest in cricket. Now, even the last vestige will be gone.

The only saving grace is BBC Radio's live audio commentary.


As for India, the impact of sharing the feed with Prasar Bharati, if it cannot be legally challenged successfully, would mean that Sports Channels like ESPN, Star Sports and Ten Sports will lose money big time over the next three years. Ten Sports may simply pack up and leave - the first casuality. ESPN and Star Sports will linger on for a while. SET Max will not bid again for ICC World Cup events at the sort of numbers it did.

Zee seems to have evinced more of an interest at the government notification. It had the least to lose - it had no rights. The other channels allow Zee Sports to pick up India rights, just to see what actually happens in that case. Zee, with absolutely no experience (its only earlier experience with marketing Indian cricket was in the name of Buddha Telefilms - it continues to fight with Prasar Bharati in courts) is sure to make a mess of it.

We, fans, will patiently follow everything. We have just seen our team pull itself up from the absolute depths it had landed in. In due course, we fervently hope, BCCI will improve, and we will continue to hope that our Government will also behave properly sometime in the future.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

New Policy Guidelines for Television Channels Issued

Ministry of Information and Broadcasting has issued a press release about the New guidelines for downlinking television channels. The detailed policy guidelines are available from the ministry's site.

The crux of the guideline is the sports broadcasting issue, about which I have written here quite a bit. Certain notified sports events will have to be shared with Prasar Bharati - in particular all future cricket matches, whether such matches are played outside the country or within India.

A channel violating this guideline cannot be shown in India.

Basically every television channel that wants to be seen in India must register with the MIB by agreeing to adhere to the guidelines mentioned above. Any channel failing to register as per the guidelines should not be shown in India. The liability will be on the cable operator. The note at the end of the guideline document says as follows:
No cable operator or DTH service provider shall, after the expiry of 180 days from the date of this notification, carry or include in his cable/DTH network any television channel that has not been registered under these guidelines. Amendments to this effect in the Cable Television Network Rules 1994 and DTH guidelines are being notified separately.
Thus the onus on which channel to show or not is placed on the local cable operator (or the DTH operator).

Thus, if an individual who doesn't wish to re-broadcast the channel can still tune to any channel (even the ones not registered with the Government of India) available to him over the satellite (if he has the right decoder). It is only the distributor who is prevented from distributing the channels not registered with the Government - at least as of now.

As I have remarked before, no time has been given to channels to react. Like the CBSE bylaw change, this government is steamrolling its way into controversial orders. It doesn't even take the legislature into confidence. None of this is debated in the Loksabha. And, despite this, our President bemoans that the executive in this country has no independence and is being subjected to legislative and judicial examination on each one of its actions.

Our executive is getting out of control and deserves to be immediately unseated in the next elections. It has no respect for the democratic process at all!

CBSE amends bylaws to waive fees for girl child

The Times of India reports: CBSE amends bylaws to waive fees for girl child

So it is finally official now. Bylaws have been amended. No debate. No scope for debate. It now has to be followed.

Why are our rulers so insensitive? The silence of CBSE schools is worrying.

There are some aspects of this move quite amusing!

* If the schools so wish, they can waive the transportation and meal charges as well. [Right! And if they want they can pay the students an extra stipend as well, buy them all a bicyle, pay for the weekend movies and free crackers for Diwali!]

* Schools affiliated to CBSE have the option of implementing this decision with immediate effect or from the next academic session beginning April 2006. [And, if the schools want, they can retrospectively reimburse the fees paid by such single girl children over the last 5 years?]

CBSE distributes free lunch, by robbing private schools

Friday, November 11, 2005

Sify and Rediff increase their war chest

Two of India's top Internet companies have looked at different ways of increasing their capital.

Recently Times of India's Internet venture brought in capital by diluting a small part of its equity.

Sify and Rediff are publically listed companies, listing their ADRs in Nasdaq, USA. In case of Sify, Satyam Computers is exiting completely by selling its remaining shares to US-based Infinity Capital Venture, LP of Raju Vegesna. In addition, Raju Vegesna will also invest a further $37 million by way of new shares from Sify. This will make him the main investor in Sify, and he will be the Chairman of Sify.

Satyam Computers, for its part, has realised a total of $117 million for its initial investment of $5 million when it seeded and started Satyam Infoway (which was later renamed as Sify) in 1995.

In the height of Internet meltdown, the Indian stock markets regularly penalised Satyam Computers for its stake in Sify, primarily because of the poor understanding of the investors as well as the accounting policies in vogue. Satyam Computers owned more than 50% of Sify and hence had to accumulate the losses Sify incurred in its books. This is not a cash loss anyway. If any, this would help offset Satyam Computers profits and thereby only reduce the tax liability. Sify was an independent company, listed on its own and had enough cash reserves and did not require any further cash infusion from Satyam Computers.

Anyway, Satyam Computers desperately tried to de-subsidiarise Sify by offloading some equity. This happened in 2002 when Softbank Asia Infrastructure Fund (SAIF) and Venture Tech Solutions invested $20 million into Sify.

Now, Satyam Computers has left completely.

As for Rediff, it is going for a public offer of a little over 3 million ADS at $15.86 per ADS, expecting to raise $ 48 million from the offering. The offering has been underwritten by Deutsche Bank Securities. You have to note that the offering is priced a bit lower than its current market price of $ 16.51.


However, it appears to me that Sify has pretty much given up on its Internet content side of things. Retail Internet is being squeezed on a steady basis with the near death of dial-up. Broadand growth is still chaotic for anyone who is not a telco. Sify Iways will also find doing business difficult when the margins are falling and grey market cyber cafes can provide connectivity at extremely low rates. Corporate services is the only growth market (including hosting services). The business will be quite challenging.

Rediff's content revenues have grown substantially. There will be a huge potential here.

Neither Rediff nor Sify have a measure of the mobile side of things with Times Internet's mobile revenue at the very top.

The market is still open and far from mature. So anything could happen over the next two years.

Sun TV settlement

The Sun TV group is a privately held group. It runs close to 15 cable television channels across Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, has a presence in several countries in the world where Tamils are present and garners almost 70% of the television ad revenue in the Tamil Nadu market. It also owns and runs a Tamil weekly magazine Kungumam which has, in the last one year, increased its circulation phenomenally through giving away freebies. This group has recently bought Dinakaran newspaper group, running two Tamil daily newspapers - Dinakaran, the morning broadsheet and Tamil Murasu, the evening tabloid. The group also controls SCV, a cable TV distribution company in Tamil Nadu. In the nascent radio market Sun TV group owns Suryan FM in 4 towns in Tamil Nadu.

The channel is predominantly owned by Kalanidhi Maran, son of Murasoli Maran, who has been a Union Cabinet Minister last in the Vajpayee Government. The current Union Minister for Telecommunication and IT Dayanidhi Maran, who is the younger brother of Kalanidhi Maran also owns stakes in this group. The exact percentage is not known. The DMK leader Karunanidhi was thought to have stakes in this group, but the details were unknown. But a recent settlement announced two days back indicates that Karunanidhi's wife Dayalu Ammal has relinquished her 20% stake in the group. The valuation at which she relinquished her shares was not indicated.

Dayalu Ammal has donated Rs. 10 crores from the proceeds to her husband Karunanidhi and of this he is setting up a trust called 'Kalaignar Karunanidhi Charitable Trust' with an amount of Rs. 5 crores. The interest from this amount will be "spent for the development of Tamil language and [to render] financial assistance for medical treatment, marriages and educational pursuits to the poor and weaker sections", and that "the aid would not be confined to Tamils. Anyone who deserves would be given help."

I am more intersted in the valuations of the Sun TV group. Since the group derives the bulk of its income from television, the only comparable listed entity in India is Zee Telefilms. Zee has a larger footprint across India, but its revenues are seriously affected by competition as Zee is not number 1 in the Hindi market. Murdoch's Star and Sony make life difficult for Zee. Though Sun's footprint is currently restricted to South India, it is a reigning number 1 is all the southern markets. Zee dabbles in film production. Sun doesn't. In the end, I do think both companies are comparable at least in terms of P/E ratio. If any, Sun's P/E should be marginally higher.

Zee's current market capitalisation is Rs. 6,200 crores. (41,25,05,012 outstanding shares, share price as of today Rs. 150.55).

Taking its 2004-05 figures, Zee's annual revenue was Rs. 1,360 crores. Profit Rs. 310 crores. Market cap on 31st March 2005 was lower at Rs. 5,730 crores. EPS Rs. 7.6, P/E = 18.3.

Zee's profits have dropped this year compared to the previous year whereas the stock price has gone up a bit. So a P/E of 20 can be taken as of now. We can safely assume the same ratio for Sun TV group.

Now, what is Sun TV group's turnover and profit? The available data is for FY '03 when Sun TV group reported a turnover of Rs. 224.43 crores. The industry estimates for Sun TV group's television revenue from 7 of its top channels is Rs. 546 crores, with Sun TV (Tamil) revenue alone at Rs. 211 crores.

Taking into account the recently acquired newspaper business, magazine business and the Cable MSO business, Sun Group's total revenues could easily be of the order of Rs. 700 crores. While the radio business may be a money sink for now, the profit margins could easily be more than that of Zee, so let us take a 28% (as opposed to Zee's 22%) profit margin.

So hazarding a guess there, Sun Group's profits would be Rs. 150 crores. Hence its valuation should be at the least Rs. 3,000 crores. A listing of Sun TV group will probably command a far better valuation than this. It has a steadily increasing profits (as opposed to Zee), and is a number 1 in the southern markets and has massive growth opportunities. There is no competition in sight.

Even at Rs. 3,000 crores, the 20% stake of Dayalu Ammal must be worth Rs. 600 crores. What was the actual settlement at, if all she had gifted to her husband was Rs. 10 crores?

Thursday, November 10, 2005

An unhindered executive?

President Abdul Kalam, addressing the National Conference on Legal Empowerment has raised a very interesting question. This is an event attended by the Chief Justice of India Sabharwal and other Judges of the Supreme Court and among others, the Speaker of Loksabha.

While talking about the executive, Abdul Kalam says as follows:
The third pillar namely, the Executive is also expected to be as independent as possible and free of intrusions from the other two. All along it has been said that Executive is the third pillar of democracy, which is independent of the other two. I however, have a different view. Please do bear with me if I say that the independence that is expected of this pillar is only in theory and mostly eroded in actual practice. How can we expect to have an Executive to function independently when each of its actions is questioned and its functioning is made regularly actionable by and accountable to the independent powers enjoyed by the Legislature and the Judiciary?
In India, the executive turns out to be the Cabinet of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister. In the Indian model, the executive, by design of the constitution, is not entirely independent. It must get most of its policy decisions passed as law through the legislature.

Why must we bemoan the lack of independence for the executive? The executive arm is the only one which can make policies for governing the country. The legislature can only accept or reject them. In most cases - in 99% of the cases - the legislature acts as a rubber stamp. The office of the president also acts in the same vein. How many private member bills have been passed recently in India? I would venture to say none. With the legislature fast becoming a rubber stamp and the opposition parties very rarely generating a lively debate, the executive has actually become more powerful than the constitution intended it to be.

Take the recent examples of fringe benefit tax and cash withdrawal tax proposed as part of the last budget - poor attempts which were accepted by the legislature after some token protest. Even Congress (I)'s Jairam Ramesh finds them unacceptable, but once the executive has decided on this, it just goes through the legislature. The ordinance on Patents is another. No debate that we have seen.

It is because of this that the common man has no recourse except going to the courts. In the past very few people challenged the decisions of the executive in the courts. Now this has increased. The judiciary has become bolder and unfortunately has started meddling in the affairs of the executive. But with a sensitive, people friendly executive, there will be less and less interference from the judiciary. The judiciary cannot interfere suo motu. It is only because of the aggrieved citizens complaining to the judiciary that the judiciary is forced to interfere and examine the legality of each and every ordinance or act or policy measures with the constitution as a reference point. I place the blame squarely on the executive and the legislature for the current mess.

The executive wing has not framed sensible rules for education, rehabilitation for affected people because of mass developement (dams etc.), mass disaster (Bhopal tragedy), reservation, centre-state relation etc. This is why in these fields there is endless litigation. There is no consensus on law making, there is no national debate before ordinances and acts are pushed through.

It is now upto the legislature and executive to fix their problem, rather than blaming the judiciary for their activistic role.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Unbundling the Local Loop

In April 2004, TRAI, The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, announced the broadband policy recommendations. The complete document is available in TRAI's website as a PDF file.

However, at that time, the government was in transition. Elections were held, Congress (I) and its coalition partners formed the government at the centre and Dayanidhi Maran of DMK became the Telecommunications minister. The new government announced its telecom policy in October 2004 (roughly an year back).

Maran's policy was very disappointing. I wrote about this in a column I was writing in (Tamil). (copy in Unicode also available in my blog) Maran has since consistently talked against local loop unbundling in every platform possible. TRAI had recommended that in order to increase the broadband penetration, local loop owned by BSNL, MTNL be unbundled and any private operator be allowed to offer DSL connectivity through this infrastructure. BSNL's unions opposed this recommendations. Maran and DoT opposed this recommendation. TRAI was quite happy in conceding that the local loop contructed in the last 5 years need not be shared with others. However Maran's ministry was not in favour of this either.

The DoT policy announced in October 2004 had set targets for broadband connectivity: 3 million broadband connections by December 2005, of which 50% (1.5 million) to be provided by BSNL/MTNL and the rest by the private operators. The result as of September 2005? 0.61 million total connections provided (that is 20% achievement on targets!), with BSNL/MTNL providing 0.26 million (2.6 lakhs) and the private operators 0.35 million. Projecting these numbers and considering vigorous sales in the last quarter of 2005, the numbers will probably reach 1 million at best. That is, probably close to 33% of the original target set.

TRAI, visibly worried by this fact has written a letter (PDF) to DoT. (The extracts available in the form of a press release from TRAI, dated 3rd November 2005.)

TRAI has recommended once again to seriously look at unbundling the local loop. I do not believe Maran will listen to these recommendations. The reason is that there is no pressure group to lobby for this. Business Standard had a debate on this topic (19th October 2005): Deepak Maheshwari, Secretary of ISP Association of India (ISPAI) - also GM, Corporate Affairs of Sify Vs RL Dube of BSNL.

Dube's article has enough in it to be fisked. Dube claims that BSNL will cross 0.5 million by December 2005 and 1 million by March 2006. In any case, this target is well below the projected target of 1.5 million by December 2005 by DoT. Dube goes on to state that broadband works only on "a computer with Pentium 4 and above and also a sound operating system." By sound operating system, I think he means Microsoft! This is utter nonsense. Broadband will work on a 10 year old computer with Intel 486 chip running a Linux OS. The real problem is, there are more people asking for broadband and BSNL is unable to supply them with connections fast enough. That is because BSNL has not invested enough in the DSLAM infrastructure. BSNL doesn't have the marketing and after service infrastructure. There are district headquarters where DSLAM is available but marketing is very weak. (ex: Vellore in Tamil Nadu. People can get broadband but they don't know why they should!)

BSNL believes that unbundling will result in private operators making a lot of money. But in reality, BSNL will get a rental for renting out the infrastructure to private operators. By way of open competition BSNL can extract the most from the private operators. This will not prevent BSNL from offering their own service to public at their own pace. BSNL can concentrate on using this money and investing in upgrading the copper elsewhere. The biggest beneficiaries will be the people and BSNL, while the private operators will also make some money, but not the most.

Why is Dayanidhi Maran reluctant?

Saturday, November 05, 2005

CBSE distributes free lunch, by robbing private schools

The Hindu reports: Free education for girls who are `single child' worries schools. Abinandanan has also blogged about this.

Effectively, the schools affiliated with CBSE must not charge any fees from a single girl child. In case of two girl children belonging to a family, each must be given a 50% fee waiver. The schools will lose affiliation if they do not conform to this norm. The schools are not going to be compensated for this loss by the Govt.

Most of the CBSE schools across India are run by private educational trusts. My daughter studies in one such school. (Heck, she is a single girl child as of now!) They depend on the fee income from the students. I know of most of my daughter's classmates. I would reckon that at least about 50% of the girls have no siblings. So in effect, assuming a 50-50 male-female split in new admissions, her school would lose 25% of the school fees! Or, they would have to increase the fees for others by 25%.

I can't understand which idiot in the CBSE thought of this scheme.

If the government wants to encourage education for girls, let them pay the money for this - from our tax earnings. Do not arm twist school managements into providing this free education. I doubt if this kind of random ruling can withstand challenge in a court of law.

This is farcical. This could also be a nightmare for the schools in terms of implementation. To quote The Hindu article:
The `single girl' status can be accepted based on a simple affidavit from the parent and inform the parents that in case the affidavit is found false, the school can take action and the Board will consider withholding certificates.
Suppose the certificates were issued and then the affidavid was found to be false? Ok, consider this issue. A girl child is allowed to write the final examination and before the certificate is issued, the parents have been found to have given a false certificate. The board withholds the certificate. The girl contests this in the court saying that the certificate is given for her ability in the examinations, not her parents' honesty. The correct procedure should be that if the affidavit is found to be false, the parents would be liable to pay the fees with interest and penalty. Now who do they owe this money to? The school or CBSE? Who will go and collect the money? What if the parents refuse to pay up claiming they are broke?

Good intentions and crap implementation. I hope this move is put to rest very quickly and the person who thought of this fired for incompetence.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Tata Indicom non-stop mobile

Middle of October, Tata Indicom announced a pre-paid mobile deal, which results in getting free incoming calls for two years. The deal is supposed to be a promotional offer, applicable only till the end of November 2005.

In the general pre-paid mobile market in India, a recharge coupon has a fixed time validity. If the money is not used up within that time, unless you get hold of another recharging coupon, your phone can't be used even to receive a call. This is one of the biggest problems I foresee in the growth of the pre-paid segment, particularly amongst the low income families.

Normally, the time validity of the recharge coupons is lower and lower for a smaller denomination. Take Airtel for example. Upto Rs. 120 recharge voucher, the validity is 90 days. For Rs. 200, validity is 120 days, and for Rs. 3,300, the validity is 1 year and 3 months. Most people will probably be buying recharge coupons in the range of Rs. 200-400, which will give them validity of 4 to 5 months. With several other operators, this time period may be lower.

However, in Tata Indicom deal, for any recharge voucher ranging from Rs. 50 to Rs. 3,000, the validity of the "free incoming call" is 2 years. Thus, someone could pick up a handset (lowest on offer Rs. 2,499) and then buy a Rs. 50 prepaid coupon. He has a phone working for the next two years, which can at least receive calls. It is a great deal for several low income families, poor students living away from homes etc. They can always be contacted by others.

I saw in a TV commercial yesterday that this offer has been extended also to Tata Indicom's Walky, a fixed wireless terminal. This is an even better deal, since the cost of the handset would be lower (I have to verify this), prompting more lower income households to go for this phone.

I also read somewhere, but can't now locate the URL, that GSM phone companies have complained to TRAI that this offer is predatory on the part of Tata Indicom. Tata Indicom is number six in the game - after Airtel, Hutch, Reliance, BSNL, Idea. They have to be predatory or else they will be destroyed. This is the only way, they can grow their market share. It would also show the way for established market players to increase the mobile phone penetration.

IISc asks for more money

Abinandanan points to an article in The Hindu, Bangalore edition about IISc asking the Central Government for Rs. 700 crores for modernisation.

IISc was given Rs. 100 crores in the last budget to help it upgrade to world class. However, IISc director P.Balaram points out, quite rightly, that
Rs. 100 crores may look like a big sum, but it is not much. Every new laboratory that comes up costs us at least Rs. 40 lakhs. The new institutes that the Ministry of Human Resource Development is building in Kolkata and Pune have a budget of Rs. 500 crores... Let us be clear. IISc. cannot become a Stanford or a Harvard just because it got a Rs. 100-crore grant. That expectation is unrealistic. It can begin modernising its facilities with the grant.
Basically IISc will spend this money to
  • Modernise physics and biology labs
  • Digitise books in IISc library
  • Start earth sciences department
  • Focus on emerging areas of nanotechnology and nanosciences
Balaram doesn't think he may get all the money he asked for. I think however that the Government should look at allocating even more money. If we want world class institutions, we can't hope to achieve that with 100 crores. We need 10,000 crores or more to be spent on basic sciences. We need more institutes set up on the likes of IISc, at least 5 more such across India, similar to IITs and IIMs. I hope the ministers concerned take a look at this seriously.

However there is something else that I saw in Abinandanan's post which is worrying me. Regarding a proposal to start undergraduate program, he quotes a news item on The Hindu, 29th October 2005:
The proposed undergraduate programme is contingent upon acquiring the land as the present campus does not have the infrastructure to meed the demands of an additional undergraduate programme.


However, the idea has evoked a mixed response among the IISc faculty. Several of them feel the establishment of an undergraduate programme will take away from the institute's avowed focus on research. "The workload of teaching undergraduates is far too much. Many of them have to be spoon-fed," says a senior faculty member.


Acknowledging the ambivalent response, the senior faculty member involved with the initiative says that even if an undergraduate programme is established, there would be no need for current faculty members to be concerned because new faculty members will be hired for hte undergraduate programme. "We will probably go on a faculty recruitment drive by which a whole new group will be added."

I am surprised about this. If IISc doesn't show commitment to undergraduate education, how do they expect to create good enough students at the graduate level? Creating a new set of faculty members will not be a solution. I would even go so far as to say that any funding to IISc must be contingent upon them starting the undergraduate school and agree to create a certain number of undergraduates every year.

I have looked at the Madras University syllabus for BSc Physics. A nephew of mine is studing in a local Chennai college. The syllabus is horrible, the teaching is atrocious. Three years of junk. I recommended a few basic physics books to get him inetersted in physics (as opposed to writing and cracking the useless exams). His college library doesn't have Feynman Lectures. They have couple of copies of Asimov's "Understanding Physics", but there is too much demand. You can't have it for more than 15 days. I am sure there are several other recent books (which I have not heard off), but none of that will be there in the local college library.

While it is going to be difficult to improve the standard of undergraduate science education across the country, effort should be made at least in a few locations. IISc cannot shirk its responsibility in this regard.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

On stealing highlights and the very feed itself

The ongoing India-Sri Lanka one-day cricket series rights have been sold to Prasar Bharati by BCCI. This is a stop gap measure. Since the full 5-year rights have not been sold by BCCI, it has been selling series by series rights ad-hoc to Prasar Bharati. The 5-year rights is highly embroiled in controversy involving ESPN-Star Sports and Zee.

Cricket in India is a major seller. Everyone knows it. The news channels in particular. The news channels have been picking up the dirty feed (the TV feed with all its logos, bugs, advertisements in toto) in an unauthorised manner and build a packaged program around it. Sometimes it is extended highlights, showing almost every wicket and fours and sixes. The program is anchored by some ex-cricketer, a few viewers call in, some statistical analysis done and voila, there is content for 30 minutes to one hour.

However this is in violation of all normal rules. News channels are normally given a maximum of two minutes of footage. In most cases, the host broadcaster puts this package together from the clean feed and makes this available to the news channels. However, in India, picking the dirty feed off the satellite is par for the course. No money to be paid to anyone. Just "Courtesy: Doordarshan or ESPN or Ten Sports or whatever."

Finally Doordarshan has woken up to the fact that this unauthorised stealing has been going on and have approached the Delhi High Court to restrain the channels from stealing the feed. reports that Sahara has picked as much as 77 minutes of the first one-day International, Asianet 45 min, Eenadu TV 21 min, India TV 16 min and TV 9 16 min.

Prasar Bharati is also planning to bill these channels for unauthorised usage.

I support Prasar Bharati.

However as the Government has decided that it will force the private channels to share their feed with Prasar Bharati on a revenue sharing basis, why not let every channel pull the dirty feed from Doordarshan and build innovative programs on top and merely ask Prasar Bharati to work out revenue shares with these channels?

That will be even better? Especially as non-Hindi, non-English audience will get to watch the dirty DD feed with local presenters having fun in their local languages?

Monday, October 31, 2005

Sucheta Dalal on the Murthy-Gowda slugfest

Writing in The Financial Express, Sucheta Dalal gives us Another view of the Murthy-Gowda slugfest.

Her main point is that none of the other industry leaders came in support of Narayana Murthy. The non-IT industry leaders are, she opines, probably gleeful that for once the IT industry is also getting screwed by the politicians. This is what she says:
The first quietly contrarian view is from industrialists in the traditional manufacturing sector. One of them pointed out that the debate over unionisation of IT workers and the Deve Gowda-Murthy controversy has, for the first time, forced the ‘pristine clean’ IT sector to taste the murky world in which others are forced to operate. From licenses and permissions at municipal levels to central clearances, such as environment and pollution, Indian industrialists have been forced to bend, crawl and grease the palms of netas and babus. Many hated doing it, but were forced to find ways to operate the ‘system’. The IT industry bypassed this muck and thrived in the absence of laws and regulations.

It’s probably why Indian industry associations, who otherwise compete to have Mr Murthy as a speaker, have maintained a thundering silence over the issue. As someone told me: “Infosys will soon realise that the world may be getting flatter, but the terrain remains rather bumpy in our little patch.” An obvious reference to Thomas Friedman’s glowing references to the Infosys gang in his bestseller.
Murthy has every reason to be pissed off at the lack of support he is getting. His nephew and MphasiS BFL's chief Jerry Rao should at least have said things in support of Murthy. I was also disappointed in not hearing anything from Azim Premji.

This is not the time to sit quiet and let the demagogues manipulate the mass opinion.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

First Tamil, next Hindi and now Telugu

Couple of days back Dayanidhi Maran launched free Telugu software, fonts etc., developed by C-DAC. Having seen the Tamil pack, I can guess what will be there in the software pack - to be given away free to public:
  • Fonts (Unicode and perhaps non-Unicode as well)
  • Open office, localised for Telugu
  • Optical Character Recognition
  • Localised Columba e-mail client
  • Few other utilities
The Hindu report indicated that there is a "Speech Interface" for systems. I do not know what this means.

When this software pack was launched in April 2005 for Tamil, it was out and out, a political affair. There were plenty of people from the media - and they had no bloody clue about the product. I had gone through the product in detail when I could get my hands on to it. I found the assemblage of software pieces quite random, not always well-chosen. It appeared as though C-DAC was pressured into creating something in a hurry, to target the Tamil New Year Day. There were talks of improper deals involving certain members of Kanithamiz Sangam (The site is not functional now) - a body of Tamil software developers. I have some posts on this in my Tamil blog -- One | Two | Three | Four.

In July, the Hindi pack was launched. Subsequently, I noticed a review of the pack by Vinay Jain in his blog (in Hindi). I had a bit of this translated to Tamil in my Tamil blog entry.

I would be keen to look at whether there has been any improvements for this Telugu launch.

In my view, the OCR was fairly good for Tamil. However Vinay Jain pointed out that the Hindi version OCR didn't work. I believe Kannada/Telugu script as well as Devanagari script are more complex to deal with, when it comes to OCR. Tamil is relatively simpler. Of course, Roman script is the simplest. I am looking forward to the review of the Telugu pack. Do send me any pointers in the blog space of any such review.

A fair amount of public money is being spent on this development and I hope people benefit from it. To my knowledge, after the initial euphoria, the Tamil world has forgotten about this package. I would like to know the statistics of number of requests for this free software, and the fulfillments C-DAC is making per month for the Tamil and Hindi packs.

The route ahead for Bharti Televentures

The Hindu Business Line has a neat analysis on The route ahead for Bharti Televentures, post Vodafone investment.

Worth reading.

Mobile cheque payments

Solzaire writes in his blog about AirTel and SBI teaming together to offer mobile based cheque payments, enabled by technology from A.Little.World Private Limited.

The process seems to be

1. Move money from your SBI a/c into your mobile a/c with AirTel
2. A merchant - through a specialised mobile device, or simply a mobile phone with enhanced SIM card (provided by AirTel), will make a query to the cutomer's mobile phone for the required amount - for the services he has rendered.
3. Through specialised menu (which will be available in an enhanced SIM card that AirTel will provide), on the customer's mobile phone, the payment is authorised.

All this merely requires SMS messages to be enabled.

I think this is a brilliant solution. Variation in implementations would emerge shortly.

A mobile operator, a bank and/or a credit card provider will step in to implement a solution provided by a technology provider to make this possible.

A Little World seems to be an interesting company to track.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Vodafone buys 10% of Bharti

Reuters reports: Vodafone buys 10 percent of India's Bharti

In what is probably the biggest news in Indian mobile sector, Vodafone has bought out the stake held by Warburg Pincus (which has made massive returns all across on its investment in Bharti) and some more from Bharti enterprises (the promoter), to get to 10% in Bharti Televentures.

I am sure this would have been done after discussions between Bharti and Singtel, the other major investor in Bharti Televentures. What would be Singtel's long term interest in Bharti? Vodafone is a more aggressive player in the mobile segment - much more than Singtel.

It would be interesting to watch...

This is certainly bound to push up Bharti's stock price.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Govt working on multilingual domain names : Maran

Hindustan Times reports: Govt working on multilingual domain names

In a HCL organized function, Dayanidhi Maran has talked about working on an implementation of multilingual domain names. Multilingual domain names are in existence in the chinese belt. Maran would be looking at Devanagari and Dravidian fonts (and languages).

In the December 2005 INFITT conference organized in Singapore, we had discussed this issue (Tamil domain names). Maniam of made a presentation and demonstration of Tamil domain names, but it called for running a small application on the host computer.

With India's full support, Dravidian/Nagari domain names can flourish quite a bit. The .in domain registrars would be more than happy to offer these domain names.

While it is a bit unclear to me what the immediate impact of this will be for the common people, this is something that needs to be done anyway.

India however still lacks content in Indian languages.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Cabinet decision may lead to reduction in investments, says ESPN

Story on Malayala Manorama: Cabinet decision may lead to reduction in investments: ESPN

ESPN's RC Venkateish is the most outspoken industry leader so far on this issue of Indian cabinet rigging the sports rights field in favour of Prasar Bharati.

Terming this move as "extremely disheartening and not fair", he further says "We will have to look at what is notified before moving further on the issue. Legal option, if at all required, will be the very, very last option."

He talks of reduction in investment and not considering several sporting properties at all. I personally believe private sports channels will be unviable in the present scenario and this will wipe out several sporting bodies in India, and also impoverish BCCI in the long run. No one is eventually a winner.

More than this, the whole thing looks palpably unethical. Any law passed with retrospective effect reeks of bad intention on the part of the government. This Manmohan Singh government did that in case of excise duty payments in the ITC issue, and now again.

Previous articles:
Prasar Bharati wants matches involving Pak, Aus, Eng as well!
Channels will lose Rs. 350 crores
Tracking Government's Sports Rights policies
DD to get feed of vital sports events from all channels

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Prasar Bharati wants matches involving Pak, Aus, Eng as well!

Sports Rights sharing policy...

Indian Express reports: Prasar queers pitch; wants matches involving Pak, Australia

In a hilarious statement today Prasar Bharati's CEO KS Sarma has told FE that "We will only push to include cricket tournaments held in countries like Pakistan, Australia, England and Sri Lanka as events of national importance. We don’t want smaller tournaments."

The attempt, as you can clearly see, is to include other matches which may also generate some money and thereby completely obliterate private channels.

In other news, which is not entirely relevant for the main issue at hand, Delhi High Court has restrained BCCI from disposing of any further rights.

When BCCI put its four year rights last year up for tender, ESPN Star Sports and Zee were the front runners. Zee won it, BCCI (Read: Dalmiya) didn't like this and did all in his powers to bring ESPN back in. Zee went to court. The drama was too complex. Supreme court had to examine whether power of writ could be applied against BCCI, whether BCCI is a 'state' body or private body and so on. Then concluded that a fresh re-bid had to happen. BCCI then rigged the bids so that Zee will be automatically disqualified. But in between there has been a few events whose rights were awarded to Prasar Bharati as a stop-gap arrangement, on a tour by tour basis.

Now, with uncertainty on the Prasar Bharati rights issue brought in by the govt., Zee and ESPN will have to think hard on what to do next. They would have to fight the Govt. on one side and the shady politics of BCCI on the other.

BCCI itself is involved in its own mess - its own internal elections. So BCCI is not even reacting to the Govt. policies whereas it should be up in arms against the current draft policy.

Sad, sad, sad situation.

Previous articles:
Channels will lose Rs. 350 crores
Tracking Government's Sports Rights policies
DD to get feed of vital sports events from all channels

Monday, October 24, 2005

Channels will lose Rs. 350 crores

My tracking on Sporting Rights to be shared with Doordarshan.

Business Standard says Sports channels will lose as much as Rs. 350 crores on subscription revenues.

Sports channels get 50% of their revenues from subscription (apparently this number is 25% for other channels). If feed must be shared with Doordarshan, no one will subscribe to the sporting channels - well, a small number of people would. So the only revenue will be advertisement revenue.

Now, at this point, a sports channel can as well close their channel and become a rights hawking agency, since the "high interest" feed will be on Doordarshan, for which someone else may do the marketing. So the only revenue available will be 75% of the airtime marketing money in India.

ESPN Star Sports MD RC Venkateish seems to have come up with the most vocal opposition: "This is a clear violation of intellectual property rights and a very negative move by the government. The government has not taken any recommendation by the industry into consideration."

A head of a foreign broadcaster (name not indicated, I suspect Ten Sports) seems to have said: "We see both advertisement and subscription revenue coming down as a result of this. It makes business completely unviable."

However Business Standard makes a mistake with the following statement... "For cricket broadcast, private players will have to share live feed with Prasar Bharati even if rights are acquired before the notification of the new policy. Thus, Sony, which has broadcasting rights for the next Cricket World Cup, will have to share feed with Prasar Bharati."

Sony did not acquire Terrestrial rights for this event in India. As such, ICC and GCC were well within their rights to sell terrestrial rights to Prasar Bharati last time. They will continue to do so this time as well. Now, would Prasar Bharati enfore ICC to give the rights to them on a 75-25 sharing ratio? ICC can refuse and simply not offer the feed. They may want outright money. The govt. can force Sony to share the feed for terrestrial broadcasts, since Sony never bought that from ICC.

Ah, here is an interesting issue. A private operator can do a deal with the original rights owner - the BCCI or ICC etc. The deal would be as follows. ICC shall not sell terrestrial rights to anyone in India. It shall be extinguished. ICC sells only the satellite rights to Sony (or ESPN etc.). Now? The govt. of India cannot force the private satellite operator to offer the feed to them, since the private operator has no right to share something that they do not own.

I would like to see someone test this theory. The courts will side with the private operator.

DNA has an article as well, no new insights though.

My previous posts in this topic:
Tracking Government's Sports Rights policies
DD to get feed of vital sports events from all channels

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Tracking Government's Sports Rights policies

Couple of days back, I came up with my immediate views on Govt. policy dictating that specific sports telecasts (read: cricket telecasts) must be shared with Doordarshan. I have decided to track this issue carefully and blog it extensively. reports that some sports broadcasters are shocked by the news (no doubt they should be). ESPN India managing director RC Venkateish says "It’s a retrograde step that could have been done without". However Zee Telefilms senior vice-president Ashish Kaul says "We have been always open to sharing feed with DD and welcome this step taken by the government". Other key players (SET, Ten) have not commented anything in public yet.

Prasar Bharati CEO K.S.Sarma says Government decision does not give unfair advantage to his channel. His contention is that "... both the private broadcasters, ESPN and Zee Sports, had agreed to share the feed with us. So how can one say that the rights are being devalued?" Sarma must be thick... Earlier both channels had agreed to share the feed, but on their own terms. Now, the Govt. is legislating that the feed must be shared (that is you have no choice) and it should be done without putting up any pre-condition, fixed fee etc. and at 75:25 sharing ratio - that is, even the financials are legislated! Further, who markets the airtime will be "mutually decided", we are told! With the right owner's hands to twisted, Prasar Bharati will demand that they will do the marketing. Or at least, they can meddle in the marketing to their heart's content, as they have nothing to lose in the process. opines that the cabinet recommendation will be legally contested, as I had indicated.

Let us watch the story unfold...

Friday, October 21, 2005

Mumbai choked, check migrants: Thackeray

Indian Express: Mumbai choked, check migrants: Thackeray

Thackeray wants to convert Mumbai into a city state and start issuing 'entry permits'. He has not thought about what the impact will be if every bursting state capital implements the same. Bangalore, as we all know, is in deep trouble because of poor infrastructure. I can tell you that Chennai is probably only marginally better, but crumbling as well. Mumbai has been worse, because of higher population and the structure of the city. It cannot grow radially.

Where there are opportunities, people will rush in. Shiv Sena cannot demand that such people only be Marathi speaking ones. Just as a lot of Mumbaikars are living in Bangalore, Bangaloreans in Chennai and so on.

Unlike in the past, I hope people now completely ignore Thackeray's rants.

DD to get feed of vital sports events from all channels

Deccan Herald writes: DD to get feed of vital sports events from all channels

In an utterly shocking news - something that goes against the grain of a free market, liberal country - Indian cabinet has enacted a policy that needs to be contested in the court of law.

Deeming certain sports events as events of national importance, the Indian cabinet has deemed that these matches of national importance must be shared by the rights holders with Prasar Bharati, with the revenue share of 75:25 in favour of the rights holders, without any minimum guarantee or opportunity cost. (Thank God, at least here they think the rights holder should get majority of the revenue.)

Worse still... Prasar Bharati can "transmit the feed of such events free to air on its terrestrial network and/or satellite/DTH mode". Until now, any such feed that Prasar Bharati acquired from rights holders went only on terrestrial network. Now, the cabinet deems this feed can go on satellite and DTH mode as well.

I suspect this will be first passed as an ordinance and then pushed through the Lok Sabha as a bill?

This will be a major body blow to the emerging DTH companies and cable TV conglomerates as well as sporting associations including BCCI. This will be the start of the death of sports in India.


Good sporting bodies make their monies by allowing rival television companies to bid and outbid each other. Television networks do so in the hope that they can extract the most out of the telecast righst they acquire. Unless the rights is exclusive, the rights holders cannot force all audience to watch their channel and generate subscription and advertising revenue.

Prasar Bharati/Doordarshan is free. So no one will subscribe anymore - except a small audience - to ESPN-Star Sports, Ten Sports, SET Max, Zee Sports etc. since the key cricket games will be shown on Doordarshan, DD Sports and DD's DTH platform. This will include Tests, ODIs that India plays as well as semis and finals of major cricket tournaments.

There is no risk whatsoever for Doordarshan.

The rewards to private television networks will diminish. So they will move away from acquiring the rights. This will result in rights broking intermediaries to emerge again. Such companies ruled the roost in the past - TWI, Stracon, Nimbus, UTV and such. They will acquire the rights instead of TV networks. This will bring down the value of the rights in the medium term. The rights holders will have to tussle with Doordarshan on who will have to market the airtime. Rights holders will be uncomfortable with a lethargic marketing of Doordarshan since 75% of a low number is low. Doordarshan is not interested in increasing the profits, since the handout from the government is always nearby. Losses are acceptable for them.

BCCI will get less money in the process. (Though that may be a good thing - undesiarable elements from BCCI may leave...) Other sports may not suffer much ininitially. But the Govt. may always amend their rules to make more and more sports under the list of events to be shown on Doordarshan.

Our television regulation is a mess. Chennai alone suffers from set top box regime. The govt., instead of dealing with this mess, has given in to lobbying from Doordarshan on sporting rights issue.

By sensibly regulationg private television networks, keeping distribution platforms away from channels and legislating that all channels must be made available on each distribution platform, by regulating the cost per channel subscription properly... better quality content can be made available at cheaper prices to people.

The current move is not good. But it will be welcomed by people in huge numbers in 'letter to the editor' column tomorrow.

I hope Zee, ESPN-Star and Ten together go to court against this ridiculous move.

Thursday, October 20, 2005


Rajesh Jain picks this item up from The New York Times that "media companies have begun experimenting with broadcasting original programming made specifically for mobile phones to increase awareness of their television shows and movies."

But the time is not too far for creating quality "television like" programs for mobile phones.

I am too pained with the content currently available on high end mobile phones in India. They are just too boring. Hutch started showing cricket clips. For the hopelessly one-sided ICC-XI v Australian XI matches, almost all networks in India showed the cricket clips. The clips were lower quality, grainy and simply not up to the mark - primarily because of the low bandwidth available.

But the price was cheap. Rs. 50 for the entire series (3 ODIs + 1 Test). Add to that, the monthly sign-on charges and download charges per kilobyte.

But beyond that, there is nothing useful out there in India! I consider the Indian mobile phone companies predominantly ... shall we say, intellectually challenged? There is very little innovation happening there, driven by them. All they want is their pound of flesh - sometimes as much as 75% of the total revenues generated, leaving the content developer to split the rest with some possible intermediary or infrastructure provider.

Most Indian FMCGs seem to think of jumping into a deal with mobile2win or some such mobile marketing companies. What exactly they are marketing is unclear to me. I would hate to receive any marketing message from companies, before I start receiving subsidised quality content on my mobile phones.

As a content developer, I am thinking of a few ideas and will have some worthwhile content to show over the coming year...

The falling Indian stock market and telecom

I suspected that the Sensex figure of 8800+ on BSE to be overly high. In about 40 days or so over September and October, Sensex shot up crazily - from around 8000 to 8800+. Now it has come back to less than 8000. (7,935.12 on Thursday, October 20th.) This level seems more reasonable, at least for now (from what the technical analysts seem to indicate).

However, nothing seems to have changed drastically in terms of the fundamentals, so this level is good for medium term investors. If I had some money now, I will put that on Telecom firms (Bharti). FDI cap in telecom has gone up to 74% starting today. I will put my money on Hutch IPO or any other telecom IPO. I am still not sure about Tata Indicom/VSNL though.

Meanwhile, I couldn't understand much about the DoT officers being taken back from the deputation to MTNL/BSNL. The Hindustan Times quotes Indian Telecom Services Association (ITSA) President SS Sirohi saying "Fall of MTNL and BSNL starts from today... This is what most of the private operators wanted. Department of Telecom's (DoT) order to withdraw top management officials and putting them in a surplus cell of government will affect the quality as well as growth of services." If BSNL and MTNL think these 1,000 officers are so important, offer them a bloody good pay package! They will take voluntary retirement from the Govt. service and take up your offer.

Sometimes, I find it difficult to understand employee unions.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Narayana Murthy Vs Deve Gowda

In just a matter of one day Deve Gowda flip-flopped, like only a politician can. Narayana Murthy, despite years of growing up in India, has not understood the wily games the politicians play.

Bangalore is a mess in terms of infrastructure. Not that many other Indian cities are great. They are all shoddy, poorly managed and crumbling day by day. The progress is chaotic. High rise buildings are developed by private developers, while the Government lags in providing clean and good drinking water, sufficient electricity, traffic de-congestion, public safety etc. This is felt more in Bangalore where a bunch of IT companies are working their butts off trying to generate more revenues for the country, themselves, their employees and shareholders.

So Murthy went and met the Congress (I) Chief Minister Dharam Singh and his coalition party Janata Dal (S)'s President Deve Gowda. The meeting seemed to go well based on various newspaper reports. Murthy had organized a presentation - made by Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha on how urban governance has to be decentralised. Murthy and Ramanathan's contention is that "Cities have strong economic energy but poor governance structure. Rural areas have low economic energy but are blessed with a good governance structure."

On 15th October, Gowda said: "The Government is not against solving the problems. The presentation made by Mr. Murthy and Mr. Ramanathan will help to tackle problems." (The Hindu)

On 16th October, Gowda changed his tune: "... new mantra of shifting focus on urban-rural partnership is just old wine in new bottle." (The Hindu)

"At a press conference in Bangalore on Sunday, Mr Gowda was critical of Mr Murthy’s suggestion for shifting the focus in the State to urban governance and setting up urban bodies on the lines of grama sabhas. Mr Gowda remarked that “the views of high-profile and elite personalities are different from ground reality.” Mr Gowda wondered if Mr Murthy knew the problems of rural life." (Deccan Herald)

OK. So after a day of deliberations, Gowda has decided to attack Murthy's ideas as bunkum. But then, it doesn't stop there. Now, in the time honoured true Indian politician's tradition, you have to go for Murthy's jugular. So what do we do? Dig his past. Dig Infosys' past. Aha! Government has given some land to Infosys. Infosys is asking for more land from Government. (I am assuming these lands are not given for free? And that some payment - reasonable payment - is made?)

Now, over to Gowda: "He claimed that Infosys had acquired 78 acres of land in Bangalore, 350 acres in Mysore and 311 acres in Mangalore. Further claiming that the company had sought allotment of about 845 acres of land near Sarjapura and Anekal taluk for setting up software development centre and residential township, he cautioned the chief minister on taking a final decision on approval. “This will not only attract public criticism, but also bring discredit to government,” he said." (Deccan Herald)

"Cautioning" the chief minister means only one thing. You dare not give the land to Infosys. I will pull the plug on your govt. Gowda is smart. If Infosys says it has provided great many jobs to people in Karnataka, here comes the immediate reply... "I am sure companies like Wipro, Intel, Accenture, IBM, HP and Honeywell, which have not been allotted government land and functioning mostly in rented buildings, account for more than 85 per cent jobs provided by the IT firms in Bangalore." (Deccan Herald)

And in any case make another issue through other fronts... Infosys probably doesn't employ enough Kannadigas! So Murthy has to rush in with some data - "Infosys had provided over 10,400 jobs to Kannadigas, of its total strength of over 45,000. Five on our Board are Kannadigas. Those levelling allegations against Infosys should get data from us." (Deccan Herald)

But Gowda immediately assures... "the government will not allow any IT company to go away from the State." (Deccan Herald)

Providing rural and urban infrastructure is the job of the Government. Responsible corporate citizens and common citizens have every right to complain about the shoddy services delivered by inept governments and politicians whose only interest is lining their own pockets.

I doubt if Infosys and other similar companies will continue to put up with the likes of Gowda for too long. If he is going to remain in power, the companies will leave. Other states are more than willing to receive them. Gowda cannot stop the exodus.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

MSN-Yahoo! messengers to talk, while Google is rumoured to bid for AOL

When Google started its messenger business with its 'Google Talk', it was inevitable for MSN and Yahoo! to look at interoperability across their messengers.

The news now is that they will look towards integrating communication across their platforms by second quarter of 2006. Google has said it had always wanted interoperability across IMs, but Yahoo! and MSN may deny that to Google Talk for some time to come.

In another news today, WSJ reported that Google and Comcast together may bid for a stake in AOL's content and messenger business (leaving out the dialup Internet connectivity business).

When Yahoo! and MSN attempt to tie-up the messenger chatting, they should also explore channelling the voice chat across the two platforms. This will force Google and AOL at least to consider something similar. Skype/E-bay would then have to enter into alliances with one or both of these groups.

The result of such a VoIM federation will have serious consequences for Telecom companies and VoIP companies around the world.

Note that Tata VSNL now owns one of the important and large VoIP player in the world, though India itself is a fairly poor market for VoIP as of now.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Sub-10k moped

While a whole lot of people are looking at Sub-10k PC, there is more of a need for a Sub-10k motorised, petrol driven two wheeler.

The lowest costing two-wheeler is more in the range of 16-18k. A Sub-10k no-frills, high mileage vehicle would help a lot of rural, semi-urban Indians. As far urban India, mass transit public transportation models are the best.

Does anyone know of any Indian engineering companies working on such a product? What kind of options are available in Chinese imports?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

The Indian Telecom Numbering Mess

Indian Telecom authorities, namely the Department of Telecommunication, function in a reckless manner.

To this day, they have not arrived at a decent telephone numbering model. Every few years the number of digits in telephone number have changed - from 5 digits to 6 digits to 7 digits and finally 8 digits. The prefixing numbers changed to accomodate private telecom players who started providing fixed line telephone connection over the last few years.

The STD code, a very inefficient coding system currently prevalent in India - the code could be anywhere from 2 digits (leaving out the beginning 0) to upto 5 digits is a total mess. And suddenly the STD code changes when the DoT and BSNL decide that some telecom circles are merged. This is happening now to Chennai's surrounding districts like Kanchipuram, Chengalpattu, Thiruvallur etc. They are all being merged with Chennai's telecom circle. No doubt this is a good news to customers in terms of lower tariff, but the cost to the businesses is huge. About 6 four-digit STD codes are changing to 44. And all the telephone numbers in these locations are changing too - to 8 digit numbers.

Now, going forward, the mess will be even greater. Bharti and Tata Indicom were both offered numbers starting in 5 (BSNL 2, Reliance 3). Now, Bharti is going to be offered numbers starting from 4 and Tata 6. This mess will result in massive costs for the telecom operators as well as their customers.


The USA numbering system is pretty neat and there has been no change in its numbering policies drastically over the last several decades! What prevents India from adapting something similar? The cost will be one off. All area codes are uniform and of 3 digits. Then, the phone number is 7 digits.

A country with such a massive teledensity as USA has not needed 8 digit telephone numbers. But then, there is only one basic operator for a given local area. But India has now allowed multiple operators in each local area. So one could introduce the differentiating 8th digit (the first digit - 2 for BSNL, 3 for Reliance and so on). However, for the sake of uniformity, we should also look at all area codes to be of 3 digits and all phone numbers to be of 1+7 digits.

The current system of 2 to 5 digits for area codes (which will change randomly!) and anywhere from 5 to 8 digits for the telephone numbers will create large scale confusion and massive costs to customers and operators in the long run.

The mobile numbering system is also awful, whereas US has not had to come up with some unique numbering system model for the mobile phones. (UK had a different kind of numbering system though.)

India has to also overhaul the toll-free numbering system (and the premium call rate system) which have numbers suspiciously similar to an ISD call to USA (numbers go as 1-600-xxx-yyyy !!!)

Will someone please tell Dayanidhi Maran to look into this?

Monday, September 05, 2005

Deccan Chronicle to acquire Odyssey Bookshop chain

From India Infoline: Deccan Chronicle to acquire Odyssey Book Stores

Close on the heels of Tatas taking a majority stake (76%) in Landmark chain, Deccan Chronicle is acquiring 100% of Odyssey, which has bookstores across a few towns in South India and one in Varanasi. As of now, Odyssey has 4 shops in Chennai, 3 in Hyderabad, 1 each in Trichy, Coimbatore, Salem and Varanasi. Besides books (primarily English books, but in Tamil Nadu they also stock some Tamil books including ours - kizhakku pathippagam), they have greeting cards, toys, music CDs and some FMCG products. They seem to be interested in moving into larger shops from their current size and want to grow across the country.

Landmark under Tatas will probably be looking for even larger shops concentrating in fewer metros. Odyssey seems to be looking at a few more towns than Landmark.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Tata stake in Landmark book shops

Business Standard says: Tatas take a 76% stake in Landmark

In a disappointing news today, Landmark has sold out 76% stake to Tatas for Rs. 103.6 crores. Only a few months back there was a news item about Kotak iinvesting money in Landmark to help Landmark grow in other metros. However, that deal must have fallen through as there is no mention of that in the current news item.

Selling 76% stake at this stage and cashing out now indicates that the promoters (Hemu Ramiah and family) are not interested in independent control and aggressive expansion strategy.

In any case, Landmark has been moving away from a dedicated book store to selling just about everything - almost a supermarket. Very soon they may as well become just another Tata Super or Hyper market label.

India desperately needs sensible, country-wide dedicated bookshop chain, which has a presence in the top 100 cities and towns. I somehow doubt if Tatas would be interested in that.

We now have to look forward to Crosswords (majority owned by Shopper's Stop) and Corner (majority owned by DC Books) to provide this.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

What have IITs contributed to India?

From The Hindu: Brand IIT: the people behind the image

Dinesh Mohan, a faculty with IIT Delhi has written the centrepage article in The Hindu, explaining IITs' contribution to India.

The article first talks about how strong the IIT brand is and that even sarkari staff understand the value of IIT faculty that they give priority to them! Then he goes on to state that the IITs are more than the undergrads, and through some limited statistics demonstrates that at best the 'brain drain' would have been 20% if you take all the graduates produced by the IITs. Then he quotes "a Department of Science and Technology sponsored study" to show that "a majority of those employed in the R&D departments of the top 20 public and private sector companies were Masters or PhD products from IITs. Similarly, a significant proportion of those working as teachers in engineering colleges received their higher degrees from the IITs." Rather than giving clear details such as the companies studied and the percentage of IIT graduates, mere use of words like "majority", "significant" dilutes the argument. By "majority" do we take it that it is at least one out of every two? Is it indeed true that every second person in top engineering R&D staff in India is an IITan? What is "significant"? Out of the 1,000 or so engineering colleges in India (including the IITs), how many faculty members are IIT graduates? We have no answers, but the author assures us that the numbers are "significant".

Then the author proceeds to say that IITs and IISc are the only institutions from India that figure in top 500 research institutions in Asia. But exactly where these colleges are ranked is not mentioned. At the very top? At the very bottom? What is the highest ranking that an Indian institution has achieved in this list? When I started searching around for this, the results were shocking. While I do not understand enough to accept the methodology employed by the researchers (Professor Nian Cai Liu and his colleagues at the Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China), I can say that Prof. Dinesh Mohan has hidden a lot of things.

The results are available on the web. From India, three institutions appear. IISc at 215, IIT Kharagpur at 421, University of Calcutta at 461! In other words, no other IIT is seen there (like, for example IIT Delhi), there is an institution other than an IIT and IISc. If IISc is not included (which anyway is not an IIT and hence doesn't come under the purview of what Dinesh Mohan is talking about), the standing is rather abysmal.

However, finally the author says that "a dispassionate analysis would show that we have done better than most people think, but are not good enough yet."

That is it. IITs are not good enough yet, as research institutions. A lot of engineering colleges in India can produce good engineers. We expect a lot more from the IITs. I would have been happy if Dinesh Mohan spent the space made available to him to discuss how IITs could be made into world class research institutions. Instead he tamely ends the article with
... there must be a restructuring and reinventing of the IITs with a vision of the future, not the narrow immediate needs of today. And for this, there must be debate and discussion that captures the aspirations and dreams of the young Indian researchers in India and abroad.
We want a roadmap now! Aren't we already late?

Friday, August 12, 2005

Low cost computing internet?

[Via Narain over phone] Business Standard reports PC, software and broadband connection for Rs 499 a month

This is not a done deal yet. Bharti and HCL, I think were planning on a similar deal, and it was talked about at least an year back. Basically a hardware vendor and an broadband provider come together and offer a bundled leasing deal for a client. The OS and software vendors may also have to brought in as the lincesing deal on the OS may not allow sub-leasing (or does it?).

The sinister thing in the above news is Microsoft pushing this through. They have no business to be there. It must be a deal fronted by the ISP, with the second largest partner being the hardware vendor. In fact, instead of a single hardware vendor, the ISP should aim to get a bunch of hardware vendors - a consortium, and even vendors who offer thin clients such as Rajesh Jain's Novatium.

But, Microsoft clearly understands the threat they are facing by the low cost PC movement which cuts out the Microsoft OS and bundles Linux OS to pare the cost down drastically. So Microsoft has to think of a clever marketing deal. And leads the pack. BSNL of course cannot think of such schemes.

I hope someone sensible in the BSNL higher management decides to handle this directly and cut Microsoft out from the deal. They have nothing of value to offer in this deal.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Peru judge orders GE's Immelt, Jack Welch arrested

Reuters says: Peru judge orders GE's Immelt, Jack Welch arrested

In the globalised world, with MNCs operating in multiple countries with completely varying laws, amnesties, protections and extradition treaties, we may see more such cases. India had unsuccessfully tried to get the boss of Union Carbide to stand trial in India in the Bhopal gas-leak case. It never happened.

I can't see USA extraditing Immelt and Welch to stand trial in Peru.

Let us see.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Adidas acquires Reebok, second largest after Nike

The Hindustan Times says: Adidas did it; acquires Reebok to challenge Nike

Some consolidation in the high end footwear market, with Adidas and Reebok combining to take on Nike.

This may not have too much of an impact in India, where the local players rule the roost.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

HCL Info launches PC for Rs 9,990

The Times of India says HCL Info launches PC for Rs 9,990

This is the usual lie computer companies resort to. The landing price is not sub 10k. A small asterisk will lead you to fine print that says you are expected to caugh up another Rs. 1,250 for various other services including the first year maintenance - compulsorily. So it is over Rs. 11,000.

"The PC has 1 GHz processor from Taiwan" says the news. So I suppose that is Via Technologies Chip. Nothing wrong with that. It works quite okay. I have one (lower than 1 GHz) and it has been working quite well under Windows 98. I found Linux struggling, particularly with the built-in sound. But that should have been resolved by now.

With poor power supply, as of now, we require an UPS as well to go along with this. That would cost another Rs. 2,000+. So in all, we would end up paying Rs. 14,000 for the computing machine system.

There is more work to be done in this area.

Foreign Pilots find India a lucrative destination

The Times of India says Pilots from across the world fly in

Trained aeroplane pilots from around the world are finding India a good destination, says the above article. And that they are willing to work for less than what Indian pilots demand! There is also a hint that India may come up with a legislation insisting that at least one of the two pilots in the cockpit must be an Indian, and that the Airline industry may lobby to knock it off.

I think Indian youngsters should seriously take to flying courses. I suppose there are enough qualified academies around in India? The salaries seem fabulous!