Baramati became the first rural district in the country to have its
own Internet service provider. Dishnet Ltd., a Sterling Infotech group company, which
embarked on an aggressive launch of its cut-price internet service in Pune recently,
launched a similar service at Baramati, on 29 March. Chennai is slated next, on 14 April.
In keeping with its mission of "the world for every
Indian", it has offered dial-up access at prices as low as Rs 10 per hour, with
additional freebies in the form of a free CD with software worth Rs 8,000, free web
hosting, etc. The service, branded ETH (Education To Home), took off in Pune with an
"Early Bird Offer" of Rs 995 for 100 hours. The company attracted an enviable
3,000 subscribers within a week.
The Chennai campaign promises to be even more aggressive,
priced at Rs 3,300 for five years, with an hour of Internet access everyday and Rs.10 for
every hour thereof. This works out to an unbelievable price of Rs 1.80 per hour. For
women, the same services are being offered at Rs 1,800, and for teachers in Chennai, the
access is to be provided free.
Such manoeuvres run true to form for promoter C
Sivasankaran, who is known for his penchant for cut- price marketing, which he first
introduced in the 80s with personal computers. (When the then ruling prices of PCs
were around Rs 1,00,000, Sivasankaran made PCs available at around Rs 30,000).
The internet service prices that are being offered are the
cheapest ever offered by the industry, with VSNL available at Rs 3000 for 100 hours
(renewable at Rs 2400 for 100 hours) and MTNL offering the same at Rs 2500.
Dishnet Ltd. will be offering the entire spectrum of
internet services, including internet access, e-mail, web hosting, e-commerce, interactive
gaming, people to people interactions, audio and video conferencing, etc..All this will be
made possible through Microsoft Commercial Internet Suite (MCIS 2.0). The company has also
entered into strategic tie-ups with giants like Microsoft, CDAC, Compaq, Ericsson, CISCO,
CheckPoint and Computer Associates, among others for the provision of these services.
Plans for the immediate future include convergence of
satellite broadcasting and communication network with terrestrial telecom network.
The company has a grand plan to promote widespread use of
internet, through a three-tier launch planned across the country. The first tier will
cover, besides Pune and Chennai, the metro cities Mumbai, Delhi, Calcutta, Bangalore,
Ahmedabad and Hyderabad. This will be followed by 44 cities each with a population of over
a million, in the second tier. The third tier would cover all the district towns in the
country beginning with the impending launches at Nagpur, Amravati, Akola and Nashik in the
next two months. As a result of this, the services will cover all of Maharashtra and Tamil
Nadu by the end of the year 1999.
As chairman, ETH Research Laboratory, and former director
of the Centre for the Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), Dr. Vijay Bhatkar says,
the strategy is aimed at putting into action the belief that "intelligence, like all
other gifts of nature, should be made available to one and all. Having recognised the vast
reservoir of intelligence that the internet can provide, we want every Indian to be
connected to it."
The company proposes to achieve its proliferation plans
through its "Trusted Partnership Program", a network of IT business franchisees
who will assist in selling and providing customer support services.
Apart from dial-up internet access, Dishnet will shortly
introduce leased line access and ISDN services, the former for corporates and the latter
for cyber cafes and other extensive internet users with high band width requirements.
Besides employing existing DoT network, Dishnet is also
exploring other access technologies such as hybrid fibre and coaxial cable networks in a
tie-up with Silicon Mountains of Pune. This technology is currently under test. When
operational, it will make available multi-media services on the Internet, accessed through
The Rs 400 crore investment in the project is being
financed through equity of Rs 100 crore, debt
of Rs 120 crore, and the rest to be funded through internal accruals, over a five-year
period. Sterling Infotech, the holding company, has already invested Rs 20 crore on the
infrastructure thus far, while a debt of Rs 62 crore has been extended by IFCI. The
company is scouting for strategic partners, primarily large ISPs from the US or Europe,
who would also bring in part of the equity.