’98 – ’06: BBS to Night Unlimited

Drifting aimlessly in cyberspace (as usual) I came across an interesting timeline of internet services in India. I still remember the summer of ’97 that I spent on a bulletin board with my 33.6kbps Lanbit serial modem; chatting with AI bots, downloading game demos. Until somebody at the other end decided to start answering the calls instead and I knew it was all over for one of the last BBS in Delhi (all except the MTNL users Directory BBS; that was one handy resource back in those days with no automated directory searches).

My first brush with internet came in 1998, in the quest for photographs of scientists for my class assignment. My first internet usage, British Council Library. I was young and innocent then, trusted a floppy and ended up with an unusable piece of plastic back home. That was the time for my first internet connection at home, a Satyam Dialup 25 hrs pack for Rs.990. I kept that receipt as a souvenir for a long tim. Later, a lot of ISP switching, Mantra, Free-dial-in et al but nothing to please the heart. Things appeared to brighten up with the only postpaid dialup (shucks…I forget its name). Cable internet (LAN shared actually, wrongly labelled cable broadband conenction) was a horrible experience. Unacceptable downtime, non-existent customer support, consumer litigations…

The best thing to happen in a long time was MTNL caller-line-identification based dialup access. No more hassle of buying prepaid packages, no more registration forms, just enter your MTNL phone number as user ID, online in a jiffy and usage charges clubbed with the usual telephone bill. Closely on its heels comes what was lovingly known as MTNL Plan B; real unlimited dialup access for the first time in India. To this day I can’t believe an MTNL employee coming up this idea. Must’ve been some mistake, can’t have good ideas coming from MTNL. Browsing with a contempt for usage meters; no more opening the email, disconnecting, typing a reply and reconnecting; I felt liberated. But then I discovered Bittorrent and FTP (and the frustration that came with downloading 700MB on a 7Kbps maxxed out connection). Such is human nature…always asking for more.

Then it seemed like I was destined to live the rest of my miserable life looking at progress bars that never appeared to be progressing (who says only kettles are like that). Broadband (the real thing, not the cable-LAN-Sify bullshit) seemed a fantasy with princely costs and data caps. And then (God bless) MTNL Night Unlimited DSL @ 256kbps, all for Rs.700 per month. 700MB cap with 8 hours unlimited access daily. The newspaper advertisement came out on 17th May 2005; the same day I was harassing MTNL babus who, efficient as ever, had no idea of any such MTNL plan. I must’ve been its first customer. That MTNL treated me in its typical babu style is a different matter (a long story, some other time).

700MB each night; hard disk bursting at the seams; deleting a 700MB download to make room on the hard disk doesn’t feel like chopping off my right arm any more. The next logical step, break all barriers. MTNL has already come up with unlimited access @ 256 kbps for Rs.1399 amonth. Eagerly waiting for the day it comes down to Rs.700-800.

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