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Wednesday, December 10, 1997 Published at 15:37 GMT



Special Report: BBC World Computer Week

Internet appeal in India
image: [ Internet design has become a lucrative profession for India's youngsters ]
Internet design has become a lucrative profession for India's youngsters

When the Indian government opened the doors for private internet service providers last month, it was predicted that demand for Internet services would sky-rocket.

Jayanthi Venkatewaren sells internet services at people's homes, offering modems, connections, after sales services and advice to her information-hungry clients.


[ image: An Indian woman used the internet to diagnose a sick child]
An Indian woman used the internet to diagnose a sick child
"Very soon we can see that the Internet is going to be there in every house. Just like the telephone has become a part of daily life, I feel the Internet will be there very soon," she says.

Yet at the time of deregulation, just a month ago, India had a mere 40,000 Internet subscribers. Perhaps not surprising when a subscription to the state provider VSNL costs £295 a year - nearly twice the monthly salary of an entry-level computer engineer - getting hooked up to the information superhighway is not cheap.

But the Indian government are optimistic that demand will grow, and say they foresee the number of Internet subscribers rising to between 1.5m and 2m by the year 2000.

Last year alone Indian Internet connections went up by almost a third.


[ image: Indian women use the internet to arrange a marriage]
Indian women use the internet to arrange a marriage
Rajalakshmy Chittur, a housewife and businesswoman, says that in India the Internet is especially attractive to woman who are usually confined to the house.

"Woman in India are restricted to the house - to cooking, looking after their children, and cleaning. So now in their own time they can surf through the Net and get whatever information they want," she says.

Women are using the Internet to help diagnose sick children, find foreign universities and even arrange marriages for relatives living abroad.

How far will it go?

Pradeep Kar, the chairman of a Bangalore-based IT company Microland, predicts that within two years there will be more than 100 Internet service providers (ISPs).

But various technical details of the deregulation process have not been fully worked out, and depending on the outcome, competition might be stifled.

The first question to be resolved is how much private service providers will have to depend on VSNL - which is currently retaining a monopoly on the infrastructure - in order to make lines available.

The Indian government is planning to build a 2.5 gigabit fibre-optic network that everyone in the industry can use. But critics say it is unlikely they will build it fast enough to keep pace with demand.

Foreign investment in Internet service providers has an upper limit of 49%, which global telecom companies say limits their involvement


[ image: The internet industry offers a wealth of new job opportunities]
The internet industry offers a wealth of new job opportunities
Yet the computer industry is taking Internet developments very seriously, and sees the World Wide Web as an opportunity to create more business and more jobs.

Many people are predicting that the Internet revolution will take off in the same way cable television did a few years ago

But for the government to meet their target of between 1.5m and 2m Internet subscribers by the year 2000, the deregulation process will have to go further.


 





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