Iffy Sify and the unscrupulous Cable Operator

An old promo of BBC's business news outlined exactly how (some) businesses like to grow - steadily towads the peak, instead of a sharp ascension followed by an equally sharp decline. Their focus is on sustainable and steady growth, rather - survival. Sify Broadband's focus, however, was on fast growth.

Around two years ago, Satyam Infoway was rechristened Sify Broadband. And then I subscribed to their LAN based services, unwittingly.

The problem with internet services in India, particularly 'Broadband', is that of distribution. VSNL's dialup had been inordinately slow and erratic, and was via telephone lines. LAN based connections were (and still are) the best alternative thing. So Sify tied up with cable operators who already had an established customerbase and scope for reach. In Delhi, cable operators each have small monopolies, that are limited by area: the city has been carved up into thousands of cable operator owned dominions. Informal agreements are such that no cable operator ventures into anothers dominion. I'm told that this is mafia controlled, but that may just be a rumour. One cable operator (from a nearby area) refused to connect to mine, on the grounds that it is someone elses area. I'm not sure how much different it is in other cities.

Because cable operators have monopolies, most don't really care about customer satisfaction. Don't take my word for it - see this and the number of people who have spoken out against poor service from the cable operators, termed CTO by Sify. Problems include repeated disconnection, no connection for days (sometimes a month or more) poor infrastructural development, technically incompetent barely educated minions doubling up as 'engineers' and messing us user computers, among several other things. The CTO does anything to save a buck.

Sify has, so far, kept out of the CTO's business. Their technical team (not particularly competent themselves) comes to the rescue when, and only when things get out of hand, which is usually when the customer has spent three days (or more) screaming at a call center executive. Or, has mailed everyone in Sify about the problem after getting fed up (which is what I did). What is interesting is that while Sify has fixed charges, the CTO can charge whatever he wants to charge as 'maintenance charges'. So while I pay Rs. 495/- for a 64kbps connection, I pay Rs.205 as maintenance charges, which is an additional 41%.

By distributing their services via cable operators, Sify was able to garner a large customer base across the country; Sify is next, I suppose, only to the NL networks (MT, BS and VS). I've been a Sify customer for a year now. I've had the time to talk extensively with their customercare executives, and while most have mouthed standard text, some have been very helpful. However, there's a limit to what they can do.

In the past, Sify themselves haven't been too customer-friendly either: after giving an unlimited connection, they put a 150mb/day limit on their broadband connection, with a day being deducted for every subsequent 25 mb. All this without informing their customers. The pack was then renamed 'Family Pack', since it was one of things mentioned in Ankur Raheja's lawsuit against Sify Broadband. I found it ridiculous that the Consumer Court passed the buck to TRAI and then TRAI passed the buck back to Consumer Court. What should one do? What can one do?

In the meantime, Satyam owned Sify launched an advertising campaign with the slogan 'Tired of waiting? Switch to Sify Broadband'. And I switched to telling call center executives that I'm tired of waiting for Sify Broadband to work. And a few months later, Satyam sold its stake in Sify, around two years after the change of name. All planned out? I think so.

Even though Sify now generously doles out compensation packages for time lost due to disconnection, and the customercare has improved, one doesn't have the patience to wait anymore. On 16 days in January, I had some connectivity issue or the other, and the connection did not become error free until the 30th. It took a lot of emails when the connection was working for them to even try to find a (hopefully) reliable solution.

I'm currently on a compensation package because though the CTO has taken money for renewal, he hasn't renew my connection. Even the receipt he was going to send has not been delivered. This is the fourth time in five months that my connection has not been renewed in time, after payment, and the first time that a compensation has been given to allow me to stay connected. So while Sify has improved (and yes, they have), the CTO is still a problem. For Sify, therefore, the problem is in their distribution channel, and they'll have to pay for the poor brand equity.

Apropos my connection, the fault is entirely mine - I should have switched to a broadband provider that doesn't depend on a cable tv operator, much sooner. Any suggestions? From what I've heard, Airtel seems to be the best.

Past posts on Sify Broadband: here, here, here and here.

Update: After two days of constantly asking for a receipt, I've been given a receipt number on the phone. The promise to deliver the receipt has still not virtualised. The CTO, it seems has not renewed any accounts, claiming a dispute with Sify. Sify, on the other hand claims that they're discussing with the CTO. Obviously, the CTO is holding Sify at ransom, and trying to renegotiate. I've decided to look for another ISP. Looks like, in trying to expand fast, Sify has bought itself more problems and terrible Brand Equity. Satyam, on the other hand, has gotten away and the share price has soared since.

Again, I ask: is there no reliable ISP? (and don't say Reliance, even if tongue-in-cheek).

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4 Comments:
Blogger Ankit said...

No DSL providers in your area?

February 03, 2006 7:25 AM  
Blogger Nikhil Pahwa said...

None that I know of. The problem then is that the cable operator might start cutting the wire. The governmentalisation of TRAI was the worst thing that could have happened.

Anyway, I'm going to look around for ISP's this month.

February 03, 2006 7:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I use sify, and though the service isn't 100% satisfying, it's much better than Hotwire that I had before. The key is to keep your distributor appeased. But yeah, don't pay before they renew the connection or give the receipt.
And from what I have heard, Airtel is good enough. You just get an extra landline :). Btw, my maintenenace charges are just 50/-.
(I used to crib about that too!!)
Happy uninterrupted connectvity!
Richa

February 05, 2006 4:43 PM  
Blogger Nikhil Pahwa said...

Lucky you, Richa. :)

I had a chat with the CTO yesterday, and it seems that he has "not been able to renew anybody's account because of problems with Sify". From what I understand, he's holding everyone hostage and trying to renegotiate his contract with Sify.

When your distributor is a crook, nothing works. When in Dec04-Jan05, my net was down for 28 days in total, I had the same distributor.

Unfortunately, it seems that Airtel isn't in my area. And that I'm stuck. :(

February 05, 2006 6:53 PM  

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