Tuesday, July 7, 2009
And now Tata
I contacted the Tata people, formerly VSNL, to provide me with a broadband connection, handing them a multi-month advance as demanded. For three days in a row they said they'd send men across and didn't. Finally, on the fourth day, the installers arrived. One was small-built, wore spectacles, and had just three fingers on each hand. The index and middle finger were fused together and twisted as were the ring and little finger. For some reason, I thought of the toes of a Cassowary, though I've never seen one of those birds. Great that the Tatas have maintained their commitment to the handicapped, I told myself, trying to shut out jokes about digital have-nots. The job, unfortunately, required a fair bit of manual dexterity. Eight thin, colour-coded wires had to be slipped into plastic connectors at both ends of a long cable. Cassowary's partner was a rookie who couldn't help because he knew nothing about electronics. He was the roof man. Tata Broadband uses Wimax technology, which involves placing a square antenna in an open space where it can receive a signal from one of the towers installed by the provider. The signal was weak at my first floor window, so we headed for the terrace.
"I hope this isn't like Tatasky TV", I muttered. "I don't want my connection failing every time it drizzles".
I was assured that wouldn't happen.
Roofman got to work, attaching the receptor pad to a rusty television antenna, and jumping down onto a wet ledge from where he lowered the cable to my window. Once Cassowary had finished checking signal strength and GPS coordinates, we headed down to drag the cable into my home and try out the brand new connection.
It did not work.
Roofman was told to move the square antenna this way and that to catch the signal better. He did not have a cellphone which made coordination between first floor and terrace less than efficient. Ultimately, I went upstairs and played interlocutor between the two using my mobile.
"I almost slipped while dangling that cable" Roofman said.
"The work looks really dangerous", I replied.
He’d spent the last few months installing dish antennas for Big TV. His beat was in an insalubrious part of town; most new Big TV clients there lived in shanties. His partner had put his leg through a sheet of corrugated metal the other day, requiring many stitches. The house owners fought with him for half an hour as he bled, insisting he owed them money for repairs. That’s when Roofman decided to switch companies. Broadband, he said, was used by good people in good homes.
It began to rain. After twenty minutes of instructing us to twist and turn the antenna, Cassowary gave up. The square pad was taken down, the cable disconnected and hauled up, bags packed.
"So, this means I can't get a broadband connection from you, right?"
"Right", Cassowary replied, downcast. Some weeks, he said, he'd visit ten houses and manage only one successful connection. The previous few days had been good, he'd been working mainly in Colaba, in high rises close to the sea where the signal was loud and clear.
I wouldn't have expected the Tatas to adopt such hit-and-miss technology. But then, I wouldn't have expected them to roll out a satellite television service which malfunctioned at the slightest hint of rain. They've done the brand few favours in recent years.
As for me, it is back yet again to square one: to MTNL and surfing in ten-minute bursts before having to unplug, replug and hope.