bq. This -article- rant was published in the December 2004 issue of ‘Spider magazine’:http://spider.tm/.
As a long time user of the Internet in Pakistan, and having sent many (tens of) lakhs of rupees your way, I write today out of frustration with every single Internet service available today in Pakistan. I am talking specifically about internet for personal usage, not corporate services which are priced well out of the reach of even well off home users.
Internet service is now just as essential as an electricity connection or a water connection (for some) – and in the near future will become so for more and more people. The ISP business is not just about providing an internet connection, worldwide it�s increasingly becoming an essential utility. This is where this is big wide gaping hole in the Pakistani business � as far as I can see, there is nothing catering to the home user beyond the million and one dialup providers.
However, in today�s world dialup is no longer a feasible option for many people. Not only do many people not have phone lines, especially in the poorer areas of Karachi, but these phone lines are in the hand of PTCL � which when it comes to the internet is about as forward thinking as any other Pakistani governmental organization.
I am sick and tired of crap/slow Internet service, and I know hundreds of other people in the same boat. I do not claim to speak for the majority, but in my informal survey I have yet to come across anyone who is satisfied with their current internet service. There are a few who are, but only happy to the extent that their bad service is not as unreliable as the last 10 they used and they have learned not to expect anything better.
In short, I am looking for the following:
*1)* Reliable and fast internet service
*2)* Now this is very important – I do not want DSL, or cable, or technology X. I want reliable internet service – my concern is not the means through which you offer that service, but the quality of the service which I receive. Since DSL goes through PTCL, which is not the most reliable of companies, I am not going to stick with it in the long run. So, as an ISP you must be looking to alternative means of providing internet services, especially those which are fully in your control. That could be upcoming technologies like wireless, or timeworn ones like black magic or wishful thinking – that is really not my concern. Also, if you are providing service through PTCL, please have some sort of a liaison b/w PTCL and the customer – for example if my phone line goes bad I don�t want to be running b/w the ISP and PTCL – you should resolve the issue with them. I don�t mind paying extra for these additional services either.
*3)* Future plans – I want broadband in the future at lower prices, and 128kbps or 256kbps is not broadband. Neither do I want to be switching ISPs every time a new one comes up with a better offer. So, what I am looking for is an ISP with a plan to offer better services at lower prices as it becomes feasible – for example if Pakistan acquires more bandwidth etc. Ideally the ISP should reflect these changes in their plans as it becomes financially viable to do so, and not wait around for others and then follow suit. I don�t want to be stuck with 128kbps either – that is a ridiculously slow speed – so the ISP needs to have a PUBLIC stated plan to move on to better speeds/services as it becomes viable… Basically have some transparency in your operations/plans as regards how they will affect your customer.
*4)* Value added services � DSL, and just about every newfangled internet service can easily support up to 10Mbps speeds, and more advanced forms scale to well over 50 Mbps (example vDSL, or Wimax). While you cannot currently offer such speeds due to international bandwidth limitations/prices, there is nothing stopping you from offering such speeds for LOCAL usage. For example, if I want to transfer data between two computers connected to your local network, I should be able to do so at a minimum of 1MBPS, regardless of what package I have subscribed to. This is technically very easily possibly – If your technical people tell you it would take more than a few hours at the most to implement this throughout your network, I suggest you send them off to a networking 101 course, or hire an outside consultant. Basically, if a service can be provided at a close to zero additional cost, then you should be providing it.
*5)* Local content servers. Provide mirrors of popular Linux distributions, Windows update etc. These should be accessible at the max. throughput your system can support.
*6)* The days of 15mb and lower mailboxes are long gone. Please look into providing larger sized mailboxes and/or webspace. Many free services now provide 1 gigabyte of storage space � so I think a 100mb is a minimum these days. Even my grandmother requires a larger mailbox then 15mb, for family pictures and so on. So don�t think that 15mb is enough for �most people� and it�s only the power users who require more. It�s the other way around – as a power user I�ll never use your email service as there are much better alternatives available for me – it�s the non-power users who would appreciate such a service. As hard drive prices go down then look into giving more space per user. Most of you have been offering that same damned 5mb of space ever since you opened up shop � in that time hard drive capacities have risen by magnitudes while prices have gone down by well over 50 times. Why?
*7)* A page on your website with the status of your internet links. Again, this is one of those things which anyone in your technical stuff should be able to setup in a few minutes. That is all the time it would take � A few minutes once and it would automatically update itself every few seconds till the time you go bankrupt. There are many advantages to this � it will save you money and time spent dealing with irate customers when PTCL chops off your internet connection (trust me they will) � I would much rather not waste time calling when I can just go to your website and see the status of the network. Almost all internet companies abroad provide this facility � I see no reason why local companies cannot manage to do so likewise.
*8)* Some sort of customer forums, or online support system. It is much faster for me to fire off an email or fill out a form on your website then to call and explain problems/suggestions. It�s also easier for you to deal with. I assume you are aiming to provide a service which would make aim to make this unnecessary – but regardless such a system should be place. See any decent international web hosting service or ISP for an example of how this should be.
*9)* Voice over IP � Your policy regards VOIP should be clear. If for governmental reasons you have to block VOIP or any other internet services, please make it clear that you are doing so. If you are blocking any other service or sites or whatever else make a list somewhere on your website.
*10)* VOIP is old hat � start thinking about Video conferencing and how your network will cope under that load.
*11)* Pakistani content � there is a realm of Pakistani content out there. The advent of so many new channels at once has unleashed an entire generation which is now out there producing music, videos, documentaries, movies and new forms of digital content which you haven�t even heard of yet. Provide a platform for them to be able to share this with their peers, and perhaps be able to sell it also. These days these people go around with cd�s and hard drives in hand � why can�t they transfer them over their trusty internet connection? You buy international bandwidth at exorbitant rates � but what about local bandwidth? Who is this grim reaper stopping you from interconnecting with other ISPs and creating an interconnected fast local backbone? If not other ISP�s, at the least what about users who are a 100 percent on your network? If you�re not thinking about such issue�s right now, how will you compete in the future?
*12)* Wireless � In the poorer areas of Karachi, there is only one viable means of providing Internet access, and that is wireless. Urban density is so high in these areas that a meager investment will cover tens of thousands of people. Invest some percentage of your profits into setting up internet kiosks in these areas. In rural India and poor urban areas a number of companies and NGO�s have set up free internet kiosks for the less fortunate, manned by volunteers who look up information, read and write emails and teach others using the internet. These have been a great success in many places (though not all). If not money, you can donate technical know how to one of the many NGO�s and charities operating in these areas. The internet is a great resource for everyone � in fact it has now been declared as one of the essential rights of a human being in the 2003 World Summit on Information Society. Pakistan is a poor country, and your customers will be the small percentage which can afford a computer. How will you, as a leader in the Internet field help in bringing internet access to every man, woman and child? Such schemes will probably cost less than your advertising budget for strewing ugly billboards all over and give you far more good will in return.
Now here is the thing – If you can manage to provide or at least even answer some of the above points, you will gain many customers for LIFE. At the end of the day, it�s all about the money, and without the above I don�t foresee you being anywhere near the top of the ISP food chain for long. The business you�re in is not a fad � IBM might go out of business with the invention of a super-cheap computer and the open source movement might drive Microsoft into bankruptcy but the internet providers of the world have a market for the foreseeable future. Stop thinking about the ISP business as just about selling a product.