It’s a crucial time for net neutrality in India. The Indian telecom regulator, Trai, has published a consultation paper for framing regulations on ‘over-the-top’ (OTT) services or simply, value added third party internet-based services such as WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook and Viber, among others.
The body has called for comments from all stakeholders (internet users, internet service providers, telcos, industry bodies among others) so that it can make a decision on subjecting internet services to an additional licensing fee and whether these providers should pay telcos for using their internet pipes.
When we voted for the Modi Govt, we were all told that good days have come. Of what we hear on the regulation of Internet services, this might go against those thoughts.
We support Net Neutrality and there are thousands like me who do. We must not give into the demand of large telecom corporations who haven’t been able to push latest technologies in India at appropriate times. Infact, all of them have concentrated on profits alone and made ‘customer care’ a celebrated word for countries other than India. Day in and out, we the customers see networks busy, down and service blockages on all the operators. We are given 2G speeds when we pay for 3G. False promises and wrong sales are consistent in nature. We are being sent wrong bills, made to wait and dragged to court if someone refuses to pay.
I think we should think of common man who uses OTTs and tries to save his hard earned money to buy food, shelter etc. We should not give in to these corporations and ask them to innovate, think out of the box to get their customer base back.
However, as we appreciate TRAI efforts to reach out to us, we hope our opinions will be accepted. We should agree to disagree on the same.
If you don’t want your mobile operator to charge extra for WhatsApp, Skype or YouTube and promote its own services over the others, submit your responses to TRAI’s twenty questions to the TRAI before April 24, 2015 at email@example.com.
TRAI seeks responses to the following twenty questions:
Question 1: Is it too early to establish a regulatory framework for OTT services, since internet penetration is still evolving, access speeds are generally low and there is limited coverage of high-speed broadband in the country? Or, should some beginning be made now with a regulatory framework that could be adapted to changes in the future? Please comment with justifications.
Question 2: Should the OTT players offering communication services (voice, messaging and video call services) through applications (resident either in the country or outside) be brought under the licensing regime? Please comment with justifications.
Question 3: Is the growth of OTT impacting the traditional revenue stream of TSPs? If so, is the increase in data revenues of the TSPs sufficient to compensate for this impact? Please comment with reasons.
Question 4: Should the OTT players pay for use of the TSPs network over and above data charges paid by consumers? If yes, what pricing options can be adopted? Could such options include prices based on bandwidth consumption? Can prices be used as a means product/service differentiation? Please comment with justifications.
Question 5: Do you agree that imbalances exist in the regulatory environment in the operation of OTT players? If so, what should be the framework to address these issues? How can the prevailing laws and regulations be applied to OTT players (who operate in the virtual world) and compliance enforced? What could be the impact on the economy? Please comment with justifications.
Question 6: How should the security concerns be addressed with regard to OTT players providing communication services? What security conditions such as maintaining data records, logs etc. need to be mandated for such OTT players? And, how can compliance with these conditions be ensured if the applications of such OTT players reside outside the country? Please comment with justifications.
Question 7: How should the OTT players offering app services ensure security, safety and privacy of the consumer? How should they ensure protection of consumer interest? Please comment with justifications.
Question 8: In what manner can the proposals for a regulatory framework for OTTs in India draw from those of ETNO, referred to in para 4.23 or the best practices summarised in para 4.29? And, what practices should be proscribed by regulatory fiat? Please comment with justifications.
Question 9: What are your views on net-neutrality in the Indian context? How should the various principles discussed in para 5.47 be dealt with? Please comment with justifications.
Question 10: What forms of discrimination or traffic management practices are reasonable and consistent with a pragmatic approach? What should or can be permitted? Please comment with justifications.
Question 11: Should the TSPs be mandated to publish various traffic management techniques used for different OTT applications? Is this a sufficient condition to ensure transparency and a fair regulatory regime?
Question 12: How should a conducive and balanced environment be created such that TSPs are able to invest in network infrastructure and CAPs are able to innovate and grow? Who should bear the network upgradation costs? Please comment with justifications
Question 13: Should TSPs be allowed to implement non-price based discrimination of services? If so, under what circumstances are such practices acceptable? What restrictions, if any, need to be placed so that such measures are not abused? What measures should be adopted to ensure transparency to consumers? Please comment with justifications.
Question 14: Is there a justification for allowing differential pricing for data access and OTT communication services? If so, what changes need to be brought about in the present tariff and regulatory framework for telecommunication services in the country? Please comment with justifications.
Question 15: Should OTT communication service players be treated as Bulk User of Telecom Services (BuTS)? How should the framework be structured to prevent any discrimination and protect stakeholder interest? Please comment with justification.
Question 16: What framework should be adopted to encourage India-specific OTT apps? Please comment with justifications.
Question 17: If the OTT communication service players are to be licensed, should they be categorised as ASP or CSP? If so, what should be the framework? Please comment with justifications.
Question 18: Is there a need to regulate subscription charges for OTT communication services? Please comment with justifications.
Question 19: What steps should be taken by the Government for regulation of non-communication OTT players? Please comment with justifications.
Question 20: Are there any other issues that have a bearing on the subject discussed?
Prior to the introduction of the paper, we’ve already seen one telecom operator, Airtel, announce differential data pricing for voice calls made through the internet. This meant that users would have paid more for consuming mobile data if they used services like Skype, Viber and Line. This was almost like penalising them to not use the company’s network for calls.
Although, Airtel rolled back the tariff hike after facing flak from its users on social media platforms, it claimed that the decision was taken after it got to know about the TRAI coming up with a paper on OTT services and that it was ready for a ‘balanced outcome.’
The move has also ignited debate on net neutrality in India, which so far was not as widely discussed. For, it didn’t directly affect the users.