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TRAIng To End Net Neutrality

Published on Sat, Apr 11,2015 | 12:38, Updated at Mon, Apr 13 at 15:54Source : CNBC-TV18 |   Watch Video :

Around the world, messages transmitted by OTTs like WhatsApp, Viber is over twice the global SMS traffic. Even Skype carried 214 billion minutes of international Skype-to-Skype calls, that’s almost 40% of the size of the global telecom market. This is what’s disrupting the telecom business model. Telecom companies say that they pay license fees, revenue share & are regulated and that OTTs enjoy a free ride, little regulation, pay no license fees or revenue share.

A few months ago, Airtel decided to charge standard call rates for calls made via Skype or WhatsApp or similar such platforms. But, consumer opposition forced it to withdraw. Airtel hasn’t given up the fight, nor have other telecom players. Luckily for them, TRAI has resparked the debate by issuing a discussion paper that raises several questions about the operations, regulation and revenue impact of OTT services. The key ones are:

-Regulate & license otts
-How to apply prevailing laws to otts to address security, consumer
-Protection and other such concerns
-Should otts pay for using telecom networks
-Can telecom networks implement non-price discrimination measures

Pranesh Prakash
Policy Director - Centre for Internet and Society

“Thankfully, TRAI hasn’t answered its own questions but the way that it set up the questions leaves me very worried! Because, the TRAI paper rather than asking whether we need the principle of net neutrality, which is the basis of a free and open internet is asking the question whether we need to regulate the internet even more, whether we need to regulate OTT players such as YouTube and WhatsApp and other internet players out there so that’s a very scary proposition.

While TRAI says OTTs are unlicensed and unregulated – telecom companies demand regulatory neutrality.”

Rajan Mathews
DG, COAI

“For example, we pay for license fees, for quality of standards, unwanted called being filtered, legal enforcement overheads and costs for encryption and decryption, all of those are on us. We are a collection agency for the governments, in so far as we have to collect sales tax on every rupee of sales. None of those burdens fall on the folks who are providing similar services.”

Apar Gupta
Advocate, New Delhi

“Imagine disclosing the scope of your activity and business before even rolling out an online biz to the telecom regulator and then being limited by it. It will increase costs and delay roll outs and it will tremendously impact innovation in the tech industry which is relying on an absence of such high bureaucratic thresholds in fact to innovate by itself. This is not in the best interests of the tech companies or the telcos. Given that telcos are making tremendous amount of revenues as well as profit on the basis that there is more data consumption.”

Pranesh Prakash
Policy Director - Centre for Internet and Society

“It’s true there is a difference between a regulation of a Viber or WhatsApp on one hand and an Airtel or a Vodafone on the other. But, the answer to that is not to increase the regulatory burden on these companies. The answer is to actually reduce the regulatory burden on telecom.

Interestingly, TRAI also seems to suggest that OTTs and apps live in a lawless land raising concerns regarding security, consumer protection and the like.”

Apar Gupta
Advocate, New Delhi

“It’s incorrect to say that internet platforms and content services are exempt from any regulation per se. Now, the IT act applies to them, Copyright IPR applies to them, if they are also engaging in ecommerce and have a base in India, indirect as well as direct taxation applies to them, general laws apply to them, law of contract applies to them, Shops and Establishment Act, the labor law legislation, everything applies to them! So, I don’t think so these arguments are that well grounded in law.”

India has no shortage of laws, besides protecting a buyer of electronic goods on an e-commerce site is hardly TRAI’s problem. So far, the arguments against TRAI’s inquiries are easily won. But now comes the most contentious part. Should OTTs pay for using telecom networks. And besides fees, can telecom networks implement other discrimination measures? At the heart of this debate lies the concept of Net Neutrality.

Net neutrality means telecom operators and governments must treat all internet traffic on an equal basis. Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web is a firm advocate of net neutrality.

“It’s essential to an open, fair democracy. The alternative is a Web in which governments or large companies, or frequently a close association of the two, try to control the internet, with packets of information delivered in a way that discriminates for commercial or political reasons.”

TRAI has sparked a fiery debate by suggesting that telecom service providers should charge OTT layers an extra fee or be compensated for the lost revenue.

But, don’t telecom companies already charge for data usage? They may earn less, but by no means are consumers using WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter for free!

Rajan Mathews
DG, COAI

“If you look at any of the global metrics and standards, you will find that the data demand will go up exponentially but unfortunately the revenue that comes from data services comes down fairly steeply and we have this gap between the customer’s demands for speed and coverage and for various applications goes up tremendously and sadly, our operators don’t have the investment to keep up with that demand in terms of providing the bandwidth and network. So, I think it’s in all our interests including the customers to plug that gap to the point that we can meet the customer’s demand for increasing speed, bandwidth, and ubiquitous coverage.”

Pranesh Prakash
Policy Director - Centre for Internet and Society

“Even if there was actually a fall in revenue which we haven’t actually seen, but even if that was the case, that doesn’t give rise to the situation that TRAI steps in and regulate the market. To give an analogy that Mahesh Murthy used recently, it would be like saying that an electricity company is losing money because of energy efficient light bulbs and is now saying that these bulbs should be regulated to prevent any losses to the company.”

Charging an additional fee is one way a telecom company could influence what apps consumers use. Now, imagine if your telecom company struck a deal with Flipkart, so that you can shop on its app at a lower data usage cost than you would pay to shop using the Snapdeal app. Airtel has done just that by launching Airtel Zero!

Rajan Mathews
DG, COAI

“What has Airtel done, Airtel has in a sense said that on a non discriminatory basis, on a very transparent basis, any application person(developer) is free to put that on their network and any user who wants to test it and not pay for it just because he wants to get used to it without getting sticker shocked, is free to do so, What’s not to like from the consumer perspective?!”

Apar Gupta
Advocate, New Delhi

“My personal opinion on airtel zero or any zero rating service is that there is an anti competitive effect and how do we deal with it. We can deal with it with a very harsh form of net neutrality where we prohibit it completely. There are also other measures which we can adopt, whereby any such private deal which is reached by a telecom major and content platform is publicized is public and on the same terms other players can sign on board with Airtel.”

Telecom companies can also influence the use of apps and OTT platforms by offering speedier access to some and a long, buffering ride to others!

But, does net neutrality mean everything and everyone is treated equally?

Pranesh Prakash
Policy Director - Centre for Internet and Society

“It means that equals should be treated equally and that unequals should be treated unequally. To give one example, we can’t treat all packets that travel over a pipe/ the internet equally. Because VOIP or any other form of real time communication means that the packets need higher priority. So you don’t want for instance your regular web browsing to slow down your Skype Call. So you want to ensure that over the Skype call, there isn’t much lag. So they need to be given a higher priority and we need to ensure that net neutrality  regs don’t go so far so as to prevent this simple kind of quality of service management.”

RAVISHANKARPRASAD @rsprasad  Apr 7
“#Internet is one of the finest creations of human mind.It belongs to enitre humanity and not to a few. #NetNeutrality”

The battle for internet freedom is about ensuring that ISPs or Telecom Service Providers don’t become gatekeepers discriminating between users, invading their privacy, curtailing their freedom of speech and infringing on a basic human right. Let’s hope the minister means what he says!

In Mumbai, Aayush Ailawadi

 
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