Unless you have been living under a rock, you must have heard about some telecom providers like Airtel  offering certain kind of “free” internet.  This sounds like a great deal to a few people, but it violates all the principles of a non-discriminatory internet infrastructure. In medium to long term, it will lead to monopoly of a few corporates over internet instead of free and fair utility it is right now. Getting greedy corporates like Airtel get away with it will mean that in a few months, subscribers will be paying separately for different services like Email, Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp, p2p and so on. Your net connection will not enable to use  your internet according to your needs, but according to which company paid your ISP more. Read more dteails about it on following link:

http://www.medianama.com/2015/03/223-should-india-have-licensing-of-internet-services-net-neutrality-trai-wants-your-views/

First, if there is licensing of Internet services, or even some Internet services, then it will impact the ability of Internet businesses and startups to remix multiple types of services like messaging and video: a fitness application linked to a band might need a government license in order to allow a customer to message a trainer, or a separate license to offer video within the application. This is what the TRAI calls “OTT licensing”.

Second, if telecom operators are allowed to discriminate between different Internet companies or types of Internet services, it will mean that some services which pay them will be faster and others slower, some might be more expensive to access and others cheaper, and some might be more visible or accessible than others. This is what Net Neutrality is about.

Net Neutrality in India

Net Neutrality in India

To gather opinion of citizens, TRAI has issued a set of 20 questions in a document which can be downloaded from following link : http://www.trai.gov.in/WriteReaddata/ConsultationPaper/Document/OTT-CP-27032015.pdf

I have copied the questions and attempted to answer them to the best of my knowledge. Normally I don’t care about campaigns on internet, but this is one campaign which can work due to it’s basic nature. You can send your own answers to TRAI on advqos@trai.gov.in before 24th May. Take action before it’s too late.

 

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.

Answer: No. Yes. Internet is a rapidly evolving system with path breaking changes every few years. Originally a communications medium limited to emails and online forums (bulletin boards), it has changed to include online commerce (Ebay, Amazon, Flipkart), information source (Wikipedia), academic source (University and online courses), 24 hours connectivity (Whatsapp, Viber), Social media (Facebook, Orkut, Twitter) and new such applications are being added everyday. Making any guidelines which will encompass every such application will be difficult, but needs to be done to avoid misuse by any of the parties involved.

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.

Answer: No. Data packets on their own should not be discriminated according to the content they are carrying. There should be no such restriction.  OTT players offering communication services ( Whatspp, Viber, Facebook) are providing a type of communications service and telecom companies are providing a platform to access it. Latter should not be allowed to interfere in any way. Allowing this will be like allowing bus operators to charge extra from passengers who want to visit a car dealership compared to passengers visiting a movie hall in the same building. Using the data should be choice of consumer, not telecom companies.

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.

Answer: Maybe. Yes. Continuing from point 2, TSPs are now trying to make more money by riding on the success of OTTs.  TSPs provide a route to access the services offered by an OTT and should be allowed to charge for that service only. They should not be allowed to charge differently for different categories. When automatic exchanges were installed, was there any rule which prohibited their use citing loss of employment to manual exchange operators ? Did rising popularity of cellular phones led to any subsidies or help for landline phone manufacturers ?

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.

Answer: No. Internet has become such a big part of the world economy because it is free and doesn’t require massive investments by small players and team of legal experts. All they need is to offer a good product and it will become successful. Ebay, Google, Facebook and various other services were started by individuals/small parties who had an unique idea and were able to present it to the world without jumping through numerous legal hoops. Any restriction, licensing and suggested pricing will make such innovations difficult and will be a net loss for humanity. If OTTs are made to pay, then only big companies with deep pockets will control the internet and should be avoided at all costs.

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.

Answer: Not sure that there even is a proper law in India which is useful in this context yet. Only laws that most people including me are draconian laws which are meant to stifle freedom of speech like 66-A. Telecom laws which were meant to “regulate” services like voice, telegraph, radio etc. can’t be modified to properly address issues of internet.

The regulatory environment, if any should learn from the success story of Indian mobile sector, but should be more flexible and liberal to make sure that India takes advantage of  opportunities offered by internet instead of stifling innovation in the name of regulations and laws.

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.

Answer: Not sure. Every new technology will bring in new set of security related challenges like mobile phones did to the world of landline phones. While security issues are important, progress should not be held hostage. In current world, specially internet connected one, physical boundaries play little role. Restrictions if any can be easily circumvented by knowledgeable people and novices alike. Don’t put any incentive for people to break the law, make it easy to use internet and it will grow.

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.

Answer: From point 4, OTTs who provide good service will become popular while others will die out. Google even with it’s huge infrastructure couldn’t prevent Orkut from closing down. Companies need a revenue stream but it should not involve collection or sale of private or identifiable data of users. Users should not be treated as identifiable individuals or ethnic groups.

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.

Answer: The details mentioned seem to be highly counterproductive and the regulations proposed are almost the same as being demanded by TSPs. Like mentioned in point 3, TSPs are scared of losing their business or profit margins to a brand new technology which provides a greater degree of freedom, convenience and value to consumers.  Role of TSPs was and still is a  connecting medium between OTTs and consumers and they are getting paid by latter for this.  TSP revenues should be generated from their role as a NEUTRAL connecting medium, not a broker.

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.

Answer: Net neutrality should be non-negotiable and TSPs should not be allowed to take money for OTTs or provide discriminatory  treatment to any protocol or service. For users, TSPs should declare their data policies and it should be verifiable by regulatory independent bodies as well as the users themselves. Purpose of TSPs is to provide a medium between users and service providers and it should remain as such. They should not be allowed to take bribes from either party as they are demanding now. TSPs which are found to be violating these guidelines should be penalised.

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.

Answer: None. Interests of consumers are much more important, not only for a good market but also for overall growth of the sector and country as a whole. TSPs should not be allowed to form cartels which they do to control prices. The pricing structure which is implemented on voice traffic is fairly good, not perfect but it works. data traffic should not be treated differently.  Nothing that I can think of or being presented is justifiable. Data should not be discriminated or managed according to it’s content.

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?

Answer: Different OTTs have different protocols of communication.  If  details about traffic management techniques used for different OTT applications are made public, it should help to make sure that TSPs are not doing any throttling or discrimination in any hidden way.

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

Answer: TSPs should concern themselves with providing a good, efficient infrastructure only and they should bear the costs like it’s supposed to. Government can oversee regulations and implementation of rules.

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.

Answer: No. Not acceptable. See point 4. Any discrimination, whether based on price, speed or quality of service will be good only for large corporations while act as barrier for small players and innovation. Progress and innovation are more important than profit margins of TSPs.

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.

Answer: No. See points 4, 13.

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.

Answer: No. See point 4, 13.Charging OTTs or customers with differential pricing is just the same thing.

Question 16: What framework should be adopted to encourage India-specific OTT apps? Please comment with justifications.

Answer: India doesn’t even have good quality web hosting companies located in India due to weak infrastructure and pain in the neck regulations. When rest of the world is enjoying streaming TV via services like Netflix and Hulu, we still find it hard to watch Youtube videos. India specific websites comparable to Facebook, Google will work when:

  • There is good internet infrastructure in which data costs (Rupees per MB) should be reasonable according to Indian incomes.Right now, our voice tariffs are among lowest in world  but most uneconomical for data.
  • Local languages are encouraged. A vast majority of Indians don’t know English and incentives to encourage innovations in usage of local Indian languages will help in increasing the reach of internet in India.
Rest is dependent on education, creation of helpful business environment which is beyond the scope of this discussion.

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.

Answer: They should not be licensed. From the relevant section “The TSPs contend that unless there is a revenue flow, they do not have an incentive to maintain or upgrade the network”

This is just a scare tactic. Revenue flow is coming from the users who are paying TSPs to access OTTs. If there are no OTT’s, customers will have no incentive to pay TSPs for the bandwidth either. Similarly, if TSPs decide to ignore innovation and upgrades, customers will not pay them. This is a net loss to customers, OTTs and to TSPs.

Question 18: Is there a need to regulate subscription charges for OTT communication services? Please comment with justifications.

Answer: OTTs are free to charge anything as long as there is a level playing field and they are not able to form cartels.

Question 19: What steps should be taken by the Government for regulation of non-communication OTT players? Please comment with justifications.

Answer: There is no pressing need for any such regulation. See point 4.

Question 20: Are there any other issues that have a bearing on the subject discussed ?

Answer: From point 16, India needs a better communications infrastructure for connectivity within the country as well as with rest of the world. We need more undersea cables controlled by different telecom operators connected to different countries unlike present conditions where we have very few which are controlled by a few TSPs. Last mile connectivity needs to be improved too. As of now, only a few big cities have good last mile connectivity with multiple options of TSPs. Smaller towns and villages need more investments.