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#MTNL, #Airtel, #Jio, the spate of #Broadband in India. Corruption in public as well as private companies, and how privatisation doesn't help it. A thread.

This starts from about the time when MTNL/BSNL were the go-to broadband providers, and Airtel was entering the market.
We (living in New Delhi) had an MTNL landline connection, and when broadband services were just appearing, we took one. Our household was one of the earliest in the neighbourhoods to have a 'Triband' connection - a promise of IPTV + Phone + Internet on a single connection.
It was a great service. Though for it's time pricey. It was an era when Indian internet cost per mb was much higher than the rest of the world, unlike today when it is one of the cheapest. Monthly quotas were 700mb range, and we used to check register.bol.net.in for left amt
Quite a few years down the lane, Airtel was entering this market. It started with landlines, and soon added broadband/airtel TV on the same line, and it was rolling out selectively. Initially plans were not cheaper than MTNL, but had much higher speeds/quotas (like 10x of MTNL)
If all you needed was a 1mbps line with 2GB download limit for a month, MTNL was still your best bet. If you wanted 8mbps and 20GB monthly quota, MTNL had nothing for you. You had to go for someone like Airtel or local cable players like Sify, Hathaway etc.
Airtel was fast grabbing the power user market, but in India, the power user market is < 1 %. Unless you grab the commoners, you cannot do 'business of scale' here. But MTNL was bleeding govt money, and Airtel giving Rs.99/month for 1mbps plans woulnd't make sense to a pvt co.
This is when MTNL broadband started having its issues. Frequent disconnections. Frequently speeds being *much* lower than promised. It went from irritating, to unbearable, to downright disruptive (as more and more work became internet based). But MTNL was still cheaper.
Every complaint led to a MTNL service person coming, trying to fiddle with the routers, the wires, the junction box. Every visit, one of them was recommended to be changed. After a ship-of-thesus makeover of every component, over a year, situation remained the same.
We took up an Airtel connection. It wasn't cheaper than MTNL, but it didn't go down, for a minute. Speeds were good. It was reliable. Inittially it was a cheap plan with low speed and data cap, and was a fallback for when MTNL doesn't work.
Over multiple years, Airtel kept suggesting plans that had 3x~4x more bandwidth/FUP limit, for 10% more cost. As affordability at home rose, it was a no brainer to take up these 'upgrades', and soon, Airtel slowly became the defacto internet line at home.
Over multiple interactions with MTNL service persons, we started figuring, there was rampant corruption. Changing lines, routers, and junction boxes was a ploy. They would replace person A's equipment with person B's while pocketing the money for a new one. This was widespread.
Often disconnections were a software level issue (more users online than available bandwidth, so rationing of open ports) by middle level authorities, that these service people on ground had no control over. Best they could do is profit from it by stealing petty line equipment
Via people I knew at both MTNL and Airtel (not wanting to disclose relations or names here), it was known to me, Airtel encouraged it at mid-senior ground level. There was incentive in irritating users for MTNL employees. It wasn't Sunil Mittal driven, in your direct sense.
There were tight sales targets, high incentives of converting households from MTNL to Airtel. These led sales level execs at Airtel to resort to strategies where they could disrupt services via 'contacts' at MTNL. Top brass at MTNL could care less, they are making losses anyway.
But as the userbase of MTNL thins out - they lose out on 'economics of scale'. The losses deepen. The infrastructure cost remains same, but userbase dwindles. And with hyper-digitalised medium of marketing, Airtel beats them out on grabbing new users.
Salaries are getting witheld, ground level staff getting laid off. The repair/service staff resorts to more corruption - strip the sinking ship of all the riches it has. Get hold of any MTNL/BSNL footsoldier, they will readily admit to it as such.
Sufficient number of people in Govt, the Deptt of Telecom, in the know if this, let's it happen. Even though this is increasing profits of a private party and deepening loss of a govt entity - MTNL/BSNL, going the Air India way.
Half a decade later, Airtel is where MTNL was. The ruling leader in the Broadband/IPTV/Landline business. We have a connection running for close to 8 years, without any hiccups. The tarrif never felt too high. Till Jio arrived.
The benefits of a reliable wired internet with low latency, < 20ms pings, good peering is something no one wants to understand on the face of 1 GB per day LTE connections at 300 rupees a month. Suddenly mobile internet starts eating at home broadband market.
Gen Z folks, taking up a flat near their office, away from home - knowing well it is temporary in nature, prefer electric stoves over a gas connection, Jio over a proper broadband. Netflix over cable TV. Afterall no connections = no attachment = nirvana. Also no address proof :D
Again, Airtel has to slash rates not only of mobile internet, but also of home broadband. If they loose customers, the losses widen (because in communication, you never 'scale down' infra. You cannot. You just hope your userbase never shrinks). This is a lose-lose scenario.
Jio with garangutan iinvestment from it's founders oil-money, and sufficient leniency from an in-bed government again, can thrive despite losses. Sunil Mittal sadly doesn't have oil fields. And here we are again in the same cycle. This time pvt-eats-pvt instead of pvt-eats-govt.
Jio doesn't want to stop at grabbing only the on-the-go customers. Deep rooted users with home-broadband is a *HUGE* chunk of the market. And over time people also know that a LTE connection is never as good as home broadband to play PUBG. So this market needs capturing.
In comes the plan for JioFiber. But even before it is launched, or even annonced, from a few months back, Airtel lines start becoming unreliable. Goes down often. Speeds are laklusture. And despite Airtel's faster customer service cycle, the same old stories are seen again.
Repair person says there is 'moisture' in the junction box, the lines are old and 'cracking', and need replacing. Again, after months of replacing every component of the connection, and upgrading to a new router for free, none of the problems seem to go away.
And why would they? They were not hardware problems to begin with. Intermittent connection, low speeds are not hardware issues. They are rationing issues. Again a pahycheck above the local service person to fix. So he rather profits from this personally as much as he can.
Again unbeknownst to Sunil Mittal, and without any such directive from the mouth of Mukesh Ambani, the pressure of sales and conversion tactics are at play. The Airtel repair guys casually carrying dual-sim phones with a Jio connection for a personal use. Rampant poaching by Jio.
Airtel is bleeding in all ways. Shrinking user-base, corruption at grassroots invisible to the top management, and the pressure to keep tariffs low because of Jio. Free TVs with Jio Fiber will be the last nail in the coffin.
Yes Jio Fiber, to begin with might be cheaper, or more reliable, or faster. But as end-users are we really winning ? More choices are better, but we are getting new choices at the expense of the older ones. That is not healthy competition.
The 0 brand loyalty, and the tendency to gobble up freebies, and sway over Re. 1 difference in pricing, had lead to Airtel/Vodafone/Idea to syndicate up and peg data plan prices to the paisa.
This and the govt's stubborn inaction in regulation (TRAI is just happy passing DND laws that are not actually followed, and RS Sharma trolling and getting trolled by people on Aadhaar) is disastrous for the telecom sector, which across the board is losing money.
A country where the entire telecommunication infrastructure is loss making cannot progress. Getting into bed with Ambani, and letting him dump all his petroleum profits (which btw came at expense of ONGC and the govt itself) into Jio and cannibalise the sector will not end well.
We might be the cheapest internet country in the world, but what is the use of that, when we are ending up paying it with our taxes ? If you add up the losses of MTNL/BSNL, the lossed in oil industry that Ambani got to profit from. Is internet in India cheap ? What are we paying?
Also add to it, when MTNL got unreliable, govt offices and PSU's switched over to Airtel. Every minister uses a phone line paid for by the PSU's working under the ministry. ONGC foots Oil Minister's tel bill. SBI probably foots FinMin's bills. That's the sad reality.
And the ministers do not want your shitty MTNL connection. No sir. They want Airtel. Now the offices want too. How many thousands of crores are ministry offices, govt buildings pouring into Airtel ? And now as those contracts are expiring, they are gettting renewed with Jio.
Can we Indians, for once, actually pay upfront for what we use, and let the industry run? Can the Govt actually regulate industries so industries can actually remain competitive for people other than the crony capitalists? Or will taxpayers continue to buoy half GDP in losses ?
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