Getting a Phone in India

July 22nd, 2007

When you come to India for ~2 weeks you’ll usually go through a short bit of culture shock. First you think it’s interesting. This is mostly because you’ve arrived very late at night and a lot of the city is sleeping. The next morning things are happy because you’re staying at one of the finest hotels in the world. Later that day you enter the city and it’s all down hill. You’ve gone from one of the finest hotels in the world to seeing some of the poorest people in the world. You just don’t know how to react. The traffic, the pollution, the fear of what you can and can’t eat. In my case my body just sort of shut down. We called it a day around 1:00PM and went back to the safe haven that is the hotel. This will be your low point of the trip, over the next few days you’ll become accustomed to these things and you’ll enjoy your trip. I’ve learned that this isn’t culture shock; when you actually -live- in India you get culture shock.

One of the most annoying things of Heather and I moving here has been getting a phone and subsequently DSL installed. As a foreigner to India you can’t actually get a phone line installed without having registered with the FRO (foreighner’s registration office, a division of the police). Thankfully my company had hired a relocation service to do this for me and the actual registration required ~30 minutes of my time, 6 passport-sized photos and a total of a few calendar days for the service to get all the paperwork in order. Once you get your FRO registration documents you can apply for a telephone line. The paperwork for this also requires a passport sized photo. That’s right, in order to get a telephone installed you must give someone a picture of yourself. Again my company hired a service to help get the phone installed. They proved to be worthless.

BSNL is the name of the phone company here, it’s a government run operation that subsidized the cost of the phone line installation in my complex in order to guarantee exclusive service to this community. Let me say that another way: The government came in and installed phone lines so that they could ensure they were the only company allowed to provide phone service.

When the relocation company submitted our paperwork for us they told us the phone would take 2-3 weeks. 2-3 WEEKS! And you thought it was awful in the US when the phone company says we’ll be there between 8:00AM and 12:00PM. These guys are giving us a 1 week range and no official way to check progress.

1 week into the waiting period I was fed up waiting. Not having internet at home is just completely unacceptable for my job. The company helping us with the phone wouldn’t do anything until 3 weeks expired; unacceptable. On one Monday evening a man called us from BSNL and said he would be there the next morning to install the phone. Holy crap! The phone is coming tomorrow! Heather waits all day. At 6:00PM the man comes to our house just to tell us he can’t install the phone today, he’ll come back tomorrow. His excuse: “they haven’t assigned a phone number for your account yet.” Turns out this was total BS: all of the houses here have pre-assigned phone numbers based on their address. Whatever, we wait. On Tuesday he doesn’t come. On Wednesday by the afternoon he hasn’t come. I dig and dig and eventually get his cellphone number. After a lot of trying he answers and he says he’ll come today. Ok. He’ll come today. He didn’t come that day. On Thursday I wasn’t believing anything. I called him and talked to him probably 4 times that day (Talking to him 4 times probably involved calling him 20 times because he usually just lets his phone ring until it stops ringing). Around 6:30 that night I called him and talked to him and asked “Are you coming?” “Yes, sir, I am coming.” “Are you sure? When are you coming?” “Yes, sir, I am coming, I’ll be there in 5 minutes.” Fine, where are you now?” “I’m at the clubhouse.” The clubhouse? The clubhouse! omg. He came. He walked out to the phone box outside our house and punched down all of the jacks in our house. That was it. I could have done this by myself.

At this point I began hassling him to give me internet today. No sir, 2-3 days I was continually told. I began offering bribes. Big money. 2,000 rupees ($50). This got him to call his friend, the broadband install man. “He will come tonight, 5 minutes.” Wow. $50 really speaks volumes here! Around 10 minutes later the guy showed up. He explained to me it would take 2-3 days. Yep. He came out to my house to tell me it will take a few more days.

My address book now has the phone number for various BSNL personnel. One time I was talking to a guy at the BSNL office when I offered 4,000 rupees ($100, you can live a month on $100 here) to have it installed that day. “Sir, Indians are not about the money, we are about the service.” I almost fell out of the chair I was sitting in. Not about the money? The service! What service?!

It ended up taking 10 more days with us calling these people every single day. “Are you coming today?” “Yes sir, I will come today, by 5:00″ “By 5:00 you’ll be here?” “Yes, sir, by 6:00 I’ll be there” (That’s not a typo).

Today we have internet, I’m using it now. It’s actually decent speed: 2Mb down, 512Kb up. The only problem is that I’m limited to 10GB per month except between the hours of 2:00AM and 8:00AM when it is unmetered. I’m not sure what’s more shocking: how long it took to get the damn thing installed or the fact that I’m paying $45/month for DSL that is pegged at 10GB. For $80 a month I can get 20GB/month. The only way to get unlimited is to step down to 256Kb/sec.

Entry Filed under: India

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. trinette  |  July 25th, 2007 at 1:41 am

    I really hope you didn’t end up giving that guy the $50! I think I would be completely bald dealing with all that mess. I’m so happy that it’s resolved!

  • 2. Bob  |  July 27th, 2007 at 6:20 am

    The story gets longer but I ended up giving him 500 (~$12) and a chocolate bar I had leftover from Ukraine as a tip.

  • 3. trinette  |  August 10th, 2007 at 1:51 am

    Good old chocolate…it just fixes everything doesn’t it? Hehe ;0)


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