Friday, 17 April 2015

Open letter to Indian telecom operators

(Article written exclusively for India Today - Click Here)

Dear Indian telecom operators,

Hope you are doing well (not because I really mean it, but because the British taught us to eloquently fake emotions in letter writing before they left.)

A few years ago, I was one of those crores of customers religiously contributing to your balance sheet year after year, before I moved abroad.

I write this letter with deep pain, a pain in the rear end which is what you guys have become, with time.

Before I begin my bitching spree, I need to first thank you from the bottom of my heart. Back in the '90s, things were pretty screwed up. Incoming and outgoing calls were chargeable, and so was interstellar communication .

Nokia phones were a national asset and preserved for generations to come. Owning a mobile phone pretty much negated the fact that you were a huge disappointment to your family.

Soon all you telecom giants took over; the privatisation of the telecom sector began. It was a proud moment indeed, seeing your glossy posters stuck on every vertical flat surface, be it walls, billboards, shop shutters, etc, across the nation. Statistically speaking, your chances of seeing Mr Dhirubhai Ambani on the Reliance mobile posters were a lot higher than seeing your wife's face.

SIM card sales crossed per capita pani puri sales. Mobiles were no more a luxury. Everyone flaunted a phone, and using Hello Kitty mobile covers to camouflage ugly phones was no longer a state secret.
Soon enough, the era of value added services began.  Call centre agents worked overtime to hard sell caller tunes. There is no single way to logically argue it out with them. Sales calls used to usually go like this -
Call centre guy: "Sir, would this be a good time to speak to you, considering that our data suggests that you have been killing time, stalking your ex on Facebook for the last 20 minutes?" 
Customer: "Yeah, sure, okay!"

Call centre guy: "Sir, why don't you subscribe to our caller tunes pack? For Rs 40, enjoy caller tunes for the next two months. This limited time offer is so rare that the next time we might offer it would possibly be when extra terrestrials take over our planet." 

Customer: "No, thanks. I can live without it."

Call centre guy: "Sir, a research done by McKinsey suggests that people with caller tunes are far more likely to succeed in life than people without it. You don't want this brutal society to label you a loser, do you?"

Customer: "I genuinely don't need it. Now don't waste my time."

Call centre guy: "Okay, sir, instead of songs why don't you try our 'bhakti ki shakti' religious caller tunes collection?"

Customer: "Thanks but no thanks."

Call centre guy: "Sir, nine out of ten subscribers have achieved nirvana within 72 hours of activating these caller tunes."

Customer: "To hell with you..."

*bangs phone down*

Call centre guy: "Sirrrr... but sirrrrrrrrrrrr... listen..."

Remember the good old days when your "WAP push" messages scared the living daylights out of the masses? An innocent little question popped up on the screen and one ignorant click reduced your mobile balance by 100 bucks or more, and you were subscribed to a random unwanted service. Thanks to you, my grandparents were getting daily dating tips SMSes from you. I genuinely wish I was making this up.  

I bet even Osama Bin Laden, in his days, had the courtesy to begin a Kickstarter campaign to generate extra funds.

"Donate $10,000 or more and get Osama to do a soulful guitar rendition of 'Hotel California' dedicated to you in his next video."

Soon the market dynamics changed. Consumers required you to go beyond the call of duty.

Intern: "Sir, we need to give back to the society. CSR, philanthropy and all those big, big words need to be a part of our website."

Marketing head: "Hmmm I am a bit confused about whether, as a brand, we should stand up for womens rights or South Delhi dog spa rights..."

Intern: "Yes sir, we could organise free-to-attend seminars on women safety in all major cities and run a social media campaign parallely. What do you think?"

Marketing head: "Screw that! Let's send fellow citizens kinky messages late at night to bring about social cohesion and make India a safer place for women."

Intern: "Mind blowing! You're the best."
Like all the above wasn't enough, you have now started striking deals with e-commerce companies to increase their website speed and lower their competitors' website speed.

This reminds me of the age old fable of the tortoise and the hare. Except, in your case, the tortoise is counting his last breaths while dangling, tied to a tree by his neck, and the hare is sunbathing on the bonnet of a Lamborghini.

On a scale of one to ten (one being a mild prick and ten being a pretentious douchebag), how would you rate yourself? Be honest here.

The internet was envisioned to be a platform where everyone could share cat photos for free, without any fear or threat. In the near future, you are going to charge extra rates on the popular mobile apps we all use.

You just want new revenue streams? Here's a few you could use, and yes, you're welcome.

1.) Start charging people for sending out "good morning" pictures on WhatsApp and premium rates could apply if there is a sun in the picture.

2.) Heavy penalties on New Year's day for the people with "At the movies" as their WhatsApp status update for nine months in a row.

In the coming weeks, as you try your level best to lobby with TRAI and other government bodies, please bear in mind that net neutrality isn't a favour you are doing the masses - it's our right!

Here's hoping some good sense prevails and hell falls upon you for your vicious deeds.
Yours most lovingly,
Rahul Batra

#NetNeutrality #SaveTheInternet

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