August 15, 1995 is an important day in India. Internet access was made available on that special day by VSNL (now part of Tata Communications).
For the past few days, many articles have been published about the 25th anniversary of the internet in India. It is good to see the people behind bringing the internet to end consumers (dialup access) being recognized in the media.
As a graduate student in the US, I was fortunate to have access to the internet in 1990 itself. I went through the entire cycle – UUCP, Usenet News, Gopher, NCSA Mosaic Browser, Netscape Browser, Apache Webserver.
I started my blog mahesh.com around the same time as Yahoo Directory (the early 1990s). Before websites came up Usenet was the most popular way of accessing special interest groups.
With www, the world opened up to a completely new way of living, especially after the introduction of graphics browsers. Command-line browsers like lynx were for technical geeks only.
Internet Connectivity in India
Internet access was not cheap in the initial years. And it was difficult to get one too, you had to stand in long queues, fill forms.
In the US too, we all start with the dialup connections [remember this sound?]. Luckily in the US, we had unlimited local calling plans, but in India, our BSNL, the monopoly state-owned service provider was charging a bomb!
We graduated to cable internet (not a fan of it at all) and then to Airtel DSL (amongst the first few customers in Bengaluru).
Work From Home is your new office and it is going to be this way at a minimum for this calendar year. For better internet connectivity, we need fiber connections. Unfortunately, my locality got DSL way too early, these copper cables can barely handle 16 Mpbs. Local corporation is not giving permission to any broadband fiber provider to lay their fiber cables.
The cost of laying cables for the last mile has been expensive. Way back in 2013 I had written about how South Korea had solved this problem.
During these pandemic times, we all have been using video calls on a very regular basis. More than often we see internet choking video and audio on these calls. We need better-wired broadband connectivity at home.
India has the highest number of internet disconnected people despite having the second largest online market in the world. Under the ‘Digital India’ initiative, every village in India will now be connected by the optical fibre cable by 2023.
We cannot deny we have made a lot of progress in internet connectivity, especially after the introduction of mobile internet.
Changing Internet Landscape
For entrepreneurs, the Internet is also a platform of timing. You need to be at the right time doing the right thing. I co-founded Indiainfo.com in 1999. We were very early in introducing new concepts in India – e-commerce, share trading, and matrimonial. Today each of these is billion-dollar companies! The timing has to be perfect.
We continued our focus on content in Indian languages. It is only since 2016 onwards we have seen Indian language getting its due in the digital space. Most ventures ventured into Indic support as they saw English usage had saturated. Fintech, E-commerce is yet to completely patronise Indian languages.
The internet penetration in India has given an opportunity for entrepreneurs to launch ventures in every possible vertical – education, health, video, e-commerce.
During this pandemic times, we have seen online education and telemedicine have rescued India in a big way. When it comes to entertainment, most of us have migrated to OTT (Prime, Netflix, Hotstar), not sure how many of us will go back to theatres.
The VC funding landscape has changed since 1990s, there is a handful of VCs in India at that time. VC funding has enabled the internet startup system to innovate and thrive in India. The internet ecosystem has provided direct and indirect employment to a sizeable number in India.
Digital Media has transformed in India – for the better and worse. Consumers have a lot more choice for content today, be it text, audio or video. But the false narrative has crept in digital media and government is not holding the offenders accountable for damaging the country.
Social media is a big competition to the traditional news portals in India. I know many people who read news only on Twitter, they are not loyal to any particular news portal. A big challenge for news portals.
The 2014 Lok Sabha elections saw digital campaign being used at a such a large scale for the first time in India. And this year, rallies are being held virtually (streamed on TV and digital platforms).
Today’s internet entrepreneurs are a lot more talented and capable of my generation of entrepreneurs. This is very good for the ecosystem and the country. I am confident they will make India proud when it comes to “Make in India, Make for Global“.
I personally have benefited from the internet revolution in India. Fortunate to be part of the Indian internet journey from its inception in India. I became an entrepreneur only because of the availability of internet