Net Neutrality India – DoT Recommendations Balanced

Net NeutralityThe Department of Telecom’s (DOT) Net Neutrality panel recommendations has taken a balanced view, in our opinion. Key recommendations of the panel are as under,

  • Tariff plans offered by telcos / internet service providers must conform to net neutrality
  • OTTs (Over the top) providing SMS/international VOIP services do not need to get a license but license is needed for domestic VOIP services
  • Legitimate traffic management is allowed but should not prejudice against app / website specific content
  • Tariff plans including Zero rating plans need to be looked into by the regulator on a case to case basis
  • The panel is not in favor of “Internet.org” as it believes that content and application providers should not be permitted to act as gatekeepers.

DoT acknowledges that free VoIP would threaten expansion and upgrade of infrastructure by telcos on which even VoIP services depend. While DoT bats for net neutrality, it makes a distinction between OTT voice service providers and other OTT players. DoT calls for net neutrality but not at the expense of ability to invest in telecom infrastructure. DoT says the obligatory words that principles of net neutrality must be adhered to. It also argues that the need for affordable access and investment in broadband infrastructure is not counter-posed against the core principles of net neutrality.

While the report mentioned that OTTs should not be licensed, it addresses the VoIP vs traditional voice arbitrage issue by stating that 1) Service providers/OTT providing domestic VOIP need to licensed and 2) VOIP tariffs would be regulated by the regulator. From a government perspective, this reduces its loss of licensing revenues if traditional voice revenue is replaced by VoIP. However, we note that VoIP traffic (whether it is domestic or international) is difficult to monitor, and the arbitrage opportunity between international VOIP and domestic VOIP may lead to increase in illegal VoIP traffic.

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