Net Neutrality – India vs Rest of the World

Net Neutrality IndiaOver the last few weeks, the issue of Net Neutrality has come into focus in India with 1> TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) releasing a consultation paper on regulatory framework for OTT services which has a separate chapter on the issue of Net Neutrality. Airtel announcing the launch of Airtel Zero which allows toll free access to apps which sign up for marketing on this platform has seen severe backlash from Netizens. We note that regulators around the world seem to have taken many different approaches on the issue and it remains to be seen what regulation India finally adopts.

TRAI identifies three types of OTT (Over the Top) services – 1> messaging and voice services (Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, WeChat, Line, Hike) 2> social networks and e-commerce related apps (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram,
WeChat, Amazon, Flipkart, Snapdeal) and 3> video and audio content providers (Youtube, Netflix, Hulu, Netmovies). TRAI’s consultation paper raises several issues in addition to net neutrality such as: 1> whether there is a need to regulate these services and if so the form of such regulations 2> whether telecom service providers can be allowed to charge any fees from OTT service providers 3> how security, safety and privacy issues can be addressed 4> how India specific OTT apps can be encouraged.

All the Telecom Operators led by Airtel, Vodafone, Idea and even Reliance Jio Infocomm want a Regulatory Framework taking shelter under National Security clause. This means the entire innovation that is happening in the Mobile Apps & Internet space is going to go slow if incompetent staff at TRAI & potentially highly corrupt staff at DoT were to frame these regulations.

Let us look at How Internet Economies across the World have dealt on the subject of Net Neutrality
United States – No Clear Regulation in Place. FCC released the new internet rules in March 2015 which strengthens the network neutrality concept.
France – French Council of State’s recent report backs operators’ claim that net neutrality will undermine investment
South Korea – KCC has recently made it legal for telecom operators to charge their customers extra fees to use VoIP apps
United Kingdom – ISPs can earn additional revenue streams from preferential traffic management
Germany – VoIP is subject to the same regulatory framework which applies to all other telecom services
China – Intermittent attempts to charge OTTs higher fee or to block them
Chile – Chile became the first country in the world to pass net neutrality legislation in 2010

A-Vo-Id Lobby has threatened that Mobile Data Charges may rise as much as 6x if they are not allowed to charge differentially for VoIP traffic. Isn’t the Market going to decide the pricing based on Bandwidth Supply vs Demand ? A-Vo-Id raising prices means rolling a red carpet for new entrant Reliance Jio Infocomm.

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