For The Cause Of The Taj

The monument wasn't the beneficiary of your votes, the phone companies were If you are a true Indian patriot, send me a 100 rupees. Sounds ridiculous, right? But
that’s exactly what’s being done by one of the most ingenious yet dubious campaigns
in recent times, The New7Wonders Poll. Every medium around has been campaigning
for Indians to vote for the Taj and ensure that it gets on the list of the New 7 Wonders
of the World. By the time you read this, the Taj might even have got on to the
New7Wonders list and the media would be flashing victory messages and interviewing
all and sundry about how they feel on the Taj being chosen…

(Continued in the scanned article image on the left). Published as part of my column for the Maharashtra Herald that’s published on alternate Saturdays.

The art of grabbing public spaces

Parking In Indian Cities - Pune - Herald ColumnArticle about improper use of parking spaces and builders tricking the city administration by just converting public parking into private parking spaces.

As per construction rules in cities, all buildings need a certain parking capacity to be approved by the corporation. Even these standards seem inadequate to handle the traffic mess in cities like Pune. However builders have found a way to make it appear as if they are conforming to the law without doing anything of that sort. They just convert public parking into private parking and supposedly comply with parking capacity rules.

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Power Politics – Divide and Rule in Maharashtra

This year the state of Maharashtra again suffers from acute electricity shortage and extended power cuts. While cities are facing 2-6 hours of cuts, the villages have to go without power for 10-16 hours a day.

As most in India are aware, the reason for this situation is the incompetence of the politicians and the state run power company they control.

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Another Broadband Internet scam – Burstable Speeds

A few days back, I wrote about how vendors are tricking customers with the “unlimited broadband” packages. Unfortunately there’s another broadband scam happening. Have you noticed?

Broadband vendors claim speeds of 256 kbps, 512 kbps or even more. However the customer never gets speeds anywhere close to this mark. You file a complaint and the vendor claims that the speed claimed is “burstable” speed. He then explains that burstable speed is the max ever possible for your connection. So even if your connection touches that mark once in one month, the vendor would say that he has fulfilled his commitment.

I doubt if that “burstable” speed is reached even once a month. You would normally get max speeds of about 1/2 to 2/3 rd of the speed claimed by the vendor. 

TRAI, the regulatory body for broadband services in India, has stated that only speeds above 256 kbps can be claimed as broadband. Unfortunately it does not state the speed below which the speed should not drop.

If I have bought a connection for 512kbps and the vendor at anytime drops the speed below 400kbps, it should be a failure of service and the consumer need not pay. When you buy milk, we do not accept it if the milkman only delivers pure milk once a month and mixes 1 or two portions of water on all the other days.

It’s true that it is a tough thing to regulate the broadband vendors. The vendors will also never declare true stats on their own. But it will at least be a weapon in the hands of the consumers. As things stand today, broadband vendors claim 512 kbps, rarely deliver even half that speed and still get away with it.

Thinking of it, I have tried VSNL (Tata Indicom), Sify, Reliance and Iqara and none of these providers ever touched the burstable marks they claim.

Privatisation is good, healthy competition even better. But remove the regulator and the companies will gang up and take the customer for a ride. In case of mobile and broadband technology, there is a regulator (TRAI) but as happens so often with technology, the bureaucrats and govt officials don’t quite understand technology and mess up the rules and the law.

Broadband Unlimited Usage Packs are ridiculous

Sify is one of the broadband providers in India. Sify is just an example as many other broadband providers are offering similar packages. While some have MB limits per day, some have them per month.

Check out Sify’s Service Price List, especially the so called Unlimited packages. Sify’s idea of 150 MB limit per day in case of these “unlimited” packs is just ridiculous.

A speed of 256 kbps is realy just (256 / 8 = 32 KBps). Note the difference between ‘kb’ and ‘KB’. kb is kilo bits while KB is kilo bytes. 1 byte is made up of 8 bits. The reason why ISPs and broadband providers state numbers in kilo bits even when most software display download speeds in kilo bytes, is obviously to take advantage of the users ignorance of bits and bytes..
Anyway, coming back to our Sify example, at 32 KBps it will take me just 80 minutes to exhaust my 150 MBs. After that Sify will keep deducting one day for extra 25 MBs of usage.

8am to 10pm is the duration for this limit of 150MB. Fortunately at night there’s no such limit.

The calculation is
1 MB = 1024 KB
(1024 / 32) x 150 = 4800 seconds. i.e 80 minutes.

So technically if I start a download at 8am in the morning and it goes on till 10pm, I will use up my alloted 150 MB in just the first 80 min of the day. After that, in the rest of the day considering that I am using up 1 MB in 32 seconds, in 45600 seconds left in the day, I will use up 1425 MBs.

Sify deducts 1 day for every 25 MB of usage abov 150 MB. So by Sify’s logic, I would have used up 1 + 57 = 58 days worth of broadband connection in one day. How strange is that?

If this isn’t an unfair practice meant solely to take advantage of users ignorance of kbs and GBs, what is?

If you present this argument to the broadband company, they will ask you why in the world do you need these many MBs. The counter is that broadband can be useful and successful only if people can download as much as they want.. software, music, movies, games…

If I just have to check mails and do Google searches, I am much better off using a cheaper dialup.

These plans are tricking customers into thinking they have broadband when they really as just a little better off than dialup.

Is TRAI listening? If not, I hope at least the broadband customers are.


TV Channel SMS scam

Every TV channel in India is today encouraging viewers to SMS to participate in polls, contests, shows and what not. However they do not tell the viewers that he SMS sent to the channel will be priced differently than a normal SMS. In some cases the SMS would cost Rs. 6, which is about 1/8th of a US dollar.

However NDTV has gone a step too far. They are running a campaign for a retrial of the Jessica Lal murder case. They want their viewers to send SMS in big numbers to voice their protest. So under the guise of a noble cause the channel is making thousands of rupees every hour. The poor mobile owner sends an SMS believing that he is either being charged a paltry sum and that he is helping a noble cause, but hat’s really happening is that he is making NDTV richer.

The channels do show a small caption that the SMS will be charged differently at Rs 5 or 6 or whatever, but you blink and you would miss the small line flashed somewhere in a remote corner of the screen.

Like cigarette packets have a statutory warning “Injurious to health”, it should be made compulsory for TV channels to show a caption “SMS being charged at Rs x” that takes up at the least 20% of screen space for more than 30 seconds. I intend to write to the information and broadcasting ministry, but if you are reading this and know someone who is addicted to SMSing TV channels, please make him/her aware.