Internet Woes

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It is surprising that there is not a single day these days when the BSNL provided internet services are working with the optimum bandwidth they were touted to be capable of when they were introduced. In fact, there must be more hours in a week when the internet lines are completely down and unusable than they are functional. This would be true of all the wide arrays of internet access modes provided by the BSNL, including its land line broadband service, the WLL wireless service and the Wi-Max wireless service, which are no doubt, state-of-the-art technology. Demonstrated in the process is the much cited adage that often stories of human advancements and achievements are much less about technology than commitment of the men behind the machines.

The story is unfortunate in an age when the premium for the paradigm of development is placed heavily on connectivity, both in the physical terms defined by roads, bridges, railways and airways, but equally by non physical communication facilities of which the internet and cell phones must rank as the foremost. Indeed, to modern ways of life, professions and businesses, the airwaves, both of telephony and internet, are next only to oxygen and water in importance, metaphorically speaking. Nothing can move at the pace the modern world demands if these facilities are not guaranteed.

So what ails the BSNL in Manipur, the giant public sector corporation which handles this important responsibility? This is the million dollar question which needs to be answered urgently. Private players, though not as resourceful, are doing much better. This is despite the fact that these private players also have to depend on the BSNL, and in many ways are only re-distributers of facilities available only with the BSNL. One broad answer that applies to all public sector undertakings, and government departments probably applies here too. The difference then is, while the private players are driven by profit motive the government sector is run on taxpayers money. The former are acutely accountable to their jobs, for on their ability to sell their services are premised their lifelines, unlike in the government sector where this accountability is practically missing and jobs are hardly dependent on performance. It is no wonder that government jobs are prized in income scarce economies like Manipur.

The stories that do the rounds these days are that mobile and internet networks of the BSNL are poor because staff manning their relay stations leave their machines and generators off for long periods to siphon off fuels which they then sell off in the black market. Those in businesses which need these fuels and lubricants to run their own machines know too well for instance that other than the packed and sealed market brands of lubricants, there are also “tower”nicknamed lubricants, which the vendors claim are superior than even the market brands and sold for a slightly heavier premium. By “tower”they of course mean the mobile and internet signal relay substations. How has this come about? Should not the BSNL authorities look into this matter?

When mobile phone service came to Manipur for the first time about two decades ago, there was only the BSNL. The same can be said of internet service. The corporation then virtually had the monopoly over these services, and when private players were allowed to enter the market a decade after it did, it had a clear head start in the market. Yet, in the decade that followed, there has been an exodus of subscribers from the BSNL to the private players. In medieval Japan, this would have been the cause for scores of hara-kiri at all levels of the organisation. In the modern private sector corporate world too, this would have meant heads of top executives rolling. In the government sectors however, this it seems is nothing to worry about. Jobs remain as secure in their mediocre best. Salaries continue to climb periodically with clockwork precision, promotion avenues for entire careers are already pre-drafted and every employee more or less knows from the time they joined their professions where they would likely be in the hierarchy of their organisations at the end of their careers, so why try mend anything? As a matter of fact, as the “tower”oil making it into the retail market is evidence, there are many who would rather try and make some extra buck than give their everything to their chosen professions. It would not be a surprise at all if in the ascendence of private parties in the airwaves business in the state, there are “match fixers”who made, and are making, a pile in clearing the way for these private businesses. We hope the BSNL authorities hear this wakeup call.

Leader Writer: Pradip Phanjoubam

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