Google chief Sundar Pichai’s return to his alma mater was breathlessly covered by the media. He was back to the IIT-Kharagpur campus nearly 25 years after leaving the college and for the first time after taking over the top job at the internet giant. It was a big deal and Google organised the event along with IIT Kharagpur.
I packed my bags from Delhi and followed Pichai to Kharagpur (which is about three hours away from Kolkata) excited about the prospects of doing Facebook lives, posting live videos and pictures, tweeting from the event to capture and broadcasting the essence and palpable energy from the ground. The atmosphere there was electric. Over 3,500 students and professors had gathered to listen to Pichai speak at a packed amphitheatre on the campus. (Read more about it here)
The irony of it all though — there we were at one of the best tech campuses in the country, at an event of the world’s largest internet company where their CEO was speaking — was that there was no internet! Mobile data just did not work, and it was the same across service providers such as Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Jio and others.
There we were at one of the best tech campuses in the country, at an event of the world’s largest internet company where their CEO was speaking, and there was no internet!
All my plans of real-time coverage of the event were dashed. Thankfully Google did a livestream of the event, which ensured that the world outside got to watch it. But, there were voices and scenes beyond the stage and the amphitheatre that day, which sadly could not be captured and broadcast live. In the days of digital and social media nothing quite beats live real-time storytelling from the action centre.
There were voices and scenes beyond the stage and the amphitheatre that day, which sadly could not be captured and broadcast live
I asked two staffers at a guest house on the campus whether it was a recurring problem or could it be that so many people converging at the same place was leading to data failure. They said they haven’t ever faced any internet issues on the campus because they were connected to the college Wi-Fi, but have often heard outsiders complain about connectivity issues. A few students I spoke to had the same story to tell.
A Google staffer, who wished to remain anonymous, said the company had asked IIT Kharagpur for Wi-Fi access for the event, but it was denied it. Internet, for many, has become synonymous with Google, much like what Xerox became for photocopying. A public relations entrepreneur involved in organising the event quipped, “Google event and no Google!” There were loud murmurs among attending journalists about the irony of the situation.
A Google staffer, who wished to remain anonymous, said the company had asked IIT Kharagpur for Wi-Fi access for the event, but it was denied it
Bad internet is a countrywide problem. According to Akamai’s state of the internet report, India had the lowest average connection speed among surveyed countries in the Asia Pacific. Though we claim to have the second largest internet population (expected to grow to 600 million by 2020), most of them aren’t connected meaningfully. Only 30% of users surveyed for the state of the internet report had speed upwards of 4 Mbps. A back of the envelope calculation by Deepak Abbot (senior vice president at Paytm*), shows that only about 60 million Indians are meaningfully connected (have a stable data connection, use the internet every day and consume about 1GB of data a month.)
Surely, for a nation that’s going digital, we can do better?
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Disclosure: FactorDaily is owned by SourceCode Media, which counts Accel Partners, Blume Ventures and Vijay Shekhar Sharma among its investors. Accel Partners is an early investor in Flipkart. Vijay Shekhar Sharma is the founder of Paytm. None of FactorDaily’s investors have any influence on its reporting about India’s technology and startup ecosystem.