The NRI Broadband Basketball in India

 By Prashanth Krishnamurthy, Pittsburgh, PA      e-mail:

Originally from Bangalore, India, Prashanth Krishnamurthy has been a Pittsburgh resident for the last ten years. He teaches telecommunications at the University of Pittsburgh and feels severely handicapped when he does not have Internet access.

India has made significant advances in wireless communications in infrastructure and availability, and India’s relatively inexpensive IT giants are smoothening things for the English-speaking developed world through their tech service and call centers. But nonresident Indians visiting India for short spans, like a month or less, face unexpected, often unbelievable, and sometimes hilarious hurdles for getting wireless broadband Internet access right in their front yard. This, even in a place like Bangalore, arguably India’s IT capital (though Chennaivasis and Hyderabadis may contest that claim).  

Those with relatives that already have broadband Internet access or have relatives willing to be frontmen for getting the broadband access have few problems. In other words, you better have a deep bench. Try getting it on your own, you will most certainly have an entertaining experience at the bare minimum.

My spouse and I arrived in Bangalore for a month and had no one readily available to be frontmen for us. We knew of and had seen ads touting the great benefits of Reliance’s NetConnect wireless broadband Internet service. So our first stop was at a Reliance store in Jayanagar, a well-known Bangalore suburb. We had to dribble the ball there for almost two hours.

While the NetConnect service is supposed to have both a prepaid option (pay up front and as you go) and a postpaid option (bill me every month), mysteriously, the prepaid option was not available — “sold out to college students” — claimed the gentleman there. We were antsy about the postpaid service, which “could not be cancelled” for three months. Now, who would pay the bills after we left India in a month? After several discussions with the quite friendly folks there, we discovered that we could “suspend” the service before we left or “convert it to a prepaid” option. Deciding to take the chance, we asked for the USB card and service. 

But they needed my passport photograph and a proof of residence in India and asked me to fill a few forms. It was then that our salesman made a blind pass of our forms to another person resulting in a blocked shot. My passport (which had both our US address and my father’s Bangalore address) had been issued by the Indian embassy in NYC and the information was not “printed” but handwritten. This caused an insurmountable problem for the folks at Reliance. They could not trust my passport. My spouse had a passport with printed information and I thought that would be acceptable. In her passport, the Indian address provided was in Chennai. Nope. That wouldn’t work in Bangalore.

“Three more days and we can try to see if someone higher up can approve your handwritten passport,” said the gentleman at Reliance. And there ended the halftime.

The other service provider we had heard of and checked with next, Bharti Airtel, turned out to be Bharti ‘Airball’. Their wonderful service “promised” us 3G “whenever” it would become available. And “whenever” was perhaps six months away. Till then, you had to live with the crawling 115 kbps on the downlink. We did not bother showing my handwritten passport here.

We finally had our first field goal with Tata Indicom’s Photon service — postpaid but with an option to cancel after a month. They had no issues with my handwritten passport. But they still threw a screen – someone had to come to my father’s house (local address in Bangalore) to verify that I was living there! They did that a couple of days later. Fortunately I was around at home then. Otherwise, they might have stopped the service.

A month passed and we were pleased with the service. The time to cancel the service had arrived, but was this an issue!  When we called, they told us they would cancel it “right away” only if we went to their head office in Koramangala – thirty minutes by auto from where I lived. But, when we did reach there through Bangalore’s traffic jam, they would NOT cancel it right away. They wondered why we were canceling in less than a month. Were we unhappy? Can we send an e-mail to their customer-care to cancel it?

 And two months later, the service was still not cancelled, but the very “concerned” folks at Tata Indicom are working hard to oblige. We are now in overtime.

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