After the ATMs yesterday, it's the turn of my Net connection to break down, forcing me to head for the neighbourhood cybercafe. It isn't just me: most subscribers to MTNL's broadband service were unable to access the Web through the day. The employee who registered my complaint said they've been overwhelmed by calls from irate customers. Apparently, MTNL officers have struck work today over wage demands. I suspect there's been some sabotaging of services as part of their protest.
Have these chaps done anything to deserve the pay hike they're demanding? Despite all the benefits the government provides MTNL and its sister concern BSNL, the two companies are struggling to keep pace with private telecom operators. Of course, managers will provide a litany of grouses that appear legitimate, but consider this: the government has given the two firms a huge, many would argue unfair, headstart in rolling out 3G services across the country. You'd think they'd immediately launch a massive campaign to capture customers, but two months after starting 3G operations in Delhi, MTNL has attracted only 300 subscribers. 300! BSNL has launched 3G in 24 towns, and now has a subscriber base of, wait for it, 2900.
The delay in 3G auctions was the final failure for a UPA telecom policy that's been a shambles from the get-go. Eventually, though, Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance and others will be permitted to offer enhanced mobile connectivity. Once that happens, the public sector undertakings will have trouble retaining even the few thousand clients they have on their roster.