The Internet Dilemma

DQI Bureau
New Update

If you are a VSNL Internet subscriber and are accessing a server

hosted/connected for example, on the Dishnet network or vice-versa, it is highly

likely that all traffic will be routed via the US. This is because ISPs in India

are not connected (peered) to each other and there is no Internet exchange

transmitting domestic traffic from one operator to another. In fact, VSNL treats

all other ISP connections on par with international connectivity and bills ISPs

pretty much in accordance with the leased line/port charges for international

(USA) connections.


The result is that almost 85% of the Internet traffic today is international.

In fact, this works as a disadvantage for a web-based service provider to host

the service in India–if the server is hosted on a Satyam network and the

person who accesses the web is a VSNL subscriber, it is likely that two-way

travel of web data is required before reaching the subscriber. If on the other

hand, the server was hosted in USA, it would only require the data to travel one

way to or from USA. As a result, hosting farms have not been successful in India

so far. As servers move to USA, the international traffic from India only


Almost 85% of the Internet traffic today is international. As servers move to the US, international traffic from India will only increase

Ashok Jhunjhunwala

The problem is intensified because the cost of international leased lines and

port charges is huge¾much beyond the means of ordinary Indians. It is to the

tune of Rs 25 lakh per year for a 1 Mbps one-way link. Accounting for 85%

traffic using an international link and assuming that the uplink usage is only

25% of downlink usage, the cost of a two-way 64 kbps Internet port in India

would have Rs.1.7 lakhs per year as the international transport component. The

cost of access (on a leased line) will be extra. No wonder the port charges in

India for 64 kbps is upward of Rs 2 lakhs. This is too high for even a

middle-sized business, leave alone the small-sized businesses and households.


An implication of this high cost is that even while we curse the low

throughput that we get on a dial-up connection, we cannot even dream of paying

for a 64 kbps link (let alone higher bit-rate connection) at our homes. As this

medium bit-rate connection remains unaffordable to even upper middle-class

homes, serious Internet-based education, commerce and entertainment remains a

dream. While the cost of international bandwidth is likely to fall in the coming

years, even a factor of 2 or 3 reduction is not enough to make this affordable

for homes.

If, on the other hand, local content was located on the domestic network and

a significant port of the traffic confined to the domestic network without using

international circuits, the cost could be substantially lower. After all, as

more and more fiber is getting installed, domestic bandwidth cost is going down.

It is not difficult to imagine that at a cost lower than Rs1000 per month, an

upper middle-class home could get unlimited use of a 64 kbps Internet

connection. Limited use of a 64 kbps Internet connection could be available even

at Rs 500 per month. As this happens, the Internet would indeed become a

powerful tool for people in India.

The key to all this is domestic content and a network such that users can

access this content without international bandwidth. And this would only be the

beginning. Once this happens, what would cry out for attention is the access

network, or the means by which a user can get access to this domestic ‘highway

system’. But this is the subject of another discussion.

Ashok Jhunjhunwala

The author is a professor of electrical engineering and leads the IIT Madras
telecom and computer networks (TeNeT) group. He has driven key developments in

network technology, including wireless systems. He was honored with the

Padmashree this year.