Unlike the Chief, whom the Madras from Madras Musings misses on a daily basis, MMM took to cell phones very early. He progressed steadily from pagers to the large brick-sized instruments and the smaller ones. With time cell phones became larger and smarter and MMM kept pace. He can still recall those old days when a cell phone in Madras that is Chennai would not work in Bombay that is Mumbai, the network being different. From such a scenario to now, when life without cell phones can be pretty much impossible (unless you live in Kashmir), we have come a long way. Which is why MMM is unable to handle the poor connectivity that has become a part of daily life. Cannot able to understand is, so MMM believes, the current expression and MMM had he stooped to such a level, would have freely used it.
The service providers are an apologetic lot. They explain that the fall in standards are due to rising demand. The infrastructure is unable to cope with it. But insiders have a different story – the private operators (and there are two in Chennai – Air Fail and Why d’you Phone) are beaten by a third player with global aspirations fueled by a deep pocket that allows for drastically low rates. As a consequence, there is no money for any investment in towers and whatever else that cell phone operators need for the calls to keep happening. Added to this is a fine that runs into several digits slapped on them by the law courts. It is anybody’s guess if Air Fail and Why d’you Phone will really survive the latest onslaught. There is an option to go with a Government-run fourth service provider but MMM learns that with their entire technical workforce opting for voluntary retirement, the chances of being better off with it are low.
It is because of this reason that MMM and other cell phone users of his kind find the going tough. Calls now follow a predictable pattern –
Step 1 – You dial a number and there is dead silence after which a beeping sound begins and goes on forever.
Step 2 – You dial the number and a giggling voice tells you that such a number does not exist.
Step 3 – You dial the number again and are told by a different voice that the subscriber is not within network coverage.
Step 4 – You dial the number and finally get through only to find that while you can hear, the party at the other end cannot. After a couple of hellos you ring off.
Step 5 – You try again and get through and surprise, you can actually begin a conversation. But after a couple of minutes there is what is termed a call drop and the line goes dead. You then go back to step 1.
MMM thought of switching from Air Fail to Why d’you Phone but was told by users of the latter that they have found it easier to visit the person they intended to call and deliver their message directly. MMM was at his wits end when he read a news item that Chennai is now the pigeon racing capital of India. He has therefore decided to abandon his cell phone and rear a couple of those birds – one for outgoing and the other for incoming messages.
Unfortunately, the drive for better service should start with Government. In Malaysia, it became easy to change one telco provider with another due to changes in Government policies. In the end, it forced all telcos to compete with the end consumer getting better services.
Step 1.5 – One hears a cough and when you begin to think the Called is very sick that he/ she could be culled, the message about COVID 19 / Corona hits you. One former Central Telecom Minister, named after a King, who is still brazening it out after a clear swindle (all for the sake of the party you see – did he mean partying at people’s expense ? ) but claims credit for lowering the tariff rates in India for the benefit of the very common Man (pardon the expression on Women’s Day), will surely be thrilled that tariffs are so low that you cannot hear a thing.
If the King’s meddling spoilt matters, the Courts made it worse with their high handed rulings without a care for or knowledge about what will happen on the ground which cannot be seen from Supremely haloed ground and the government wants to be politically correct, making sure Rs. 1,76,000 Crores ‘scam’ does not stick to it. In the meantime, with grandiose vision of muzzling competition out and creating a monopoly in the long run (Dhirgdarshi), Deep-Pockets Big-Guy doles out candies to the drooling, only to take it back bit by bit later. The once Monopoly state owned Giant, where the ‘Lineman’ spoke with greater arrogance than CEOs of companies not a long while back, meanwhile hangs by a thread, the egos of its employees under check but with little impact on their efficiency.
That is the story of Telecom in India today.
‘Tell it to the air’, it seems has a better chance of survival. ‘Why do you phone, when you can use text meesage’ , is said to be winding up. Perhaps, optical fiber is coming back?
On 3/10/20, Madras Heritage and Carnatic Music
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