How telecoms won Net Neutrality battle and consumers lost

Indian telecoms such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular, Tata Docomo, etc. have won the part one of the ongoing Net Neutrality battle.

But the consumers — around 900 million mobile users and several enterprise users — lost the battle in the process. The DoT guideline has become a major tool to control VoIP OTT players. This is because DoT does not talk about controlling Indian telecoms if they slash broadband speed to certain customers or sell high quality broadband to others for a special price.

DoT said the primary goals of Net Neutrality recommendations should be for achieving affordable broadband, quality broadband and universal broadband.

If the main aim of the DoT recommendation is the above, telecoms have achieved everything. Because India has not achieved nothing in broadband in the last 20 years of telecom liberalization. India has 15.56 million wired broadband and 88.96 million wireless broadband users. The total number of broadband users is nearly 104 million in May 2015, according to TRAI data.

DoT does not specifically mention tools or punishment to guide erring telecoms from staying away from anti-user activities.

What DoT says

DoT said legitimate traffic management practices may be allowed but should be “tested” against the core principles of Net Neutrality.

# TSPs/ISPs should make adequate disclosures to the users about their traffic management policies, tools and intervention practices to maintain transparency and allow users to make informed choices

Unreasonable traffic management, exploitative or anti-competitive in nature may not be permitted.

for legitimate network management, application-agnostic control may be used. However, application-specific control within the “Internet traffic” class may not be permitted.

Traffic management practices like DPI should not be used for unlawful access to the type and contents of an application in an IP packet.

# Improper (Paid or otherwise) Prioritization may not be permitted f) Application-agnostic congestion control being a legitimate requirement cannot be considered to be against Net Neutrality. However application-specific control within the “Internet traffic” class may be against the principles of Net Neutrality.

Mechanism to minimize frivolous complaints will be desirable.

# DoT said traffic management is complex and specialized field and enough capacity building is needed before undertaking such an exercise.

Incidentally, both DoT and TRAI failed to guide Indian telecoms to expand their broadband reach. Most wired broadband services are not available in rural India. In fact, established telecoms such as Bharti Airtel, Reliance Communications and Tata Teleservices did not expand their wired broadband to rural areas due to lack of viability. BSNL services do not ensure QoS in rural India, though they are the wired broadband leader with 10 million users.

Interestingly, DoT recommendations have turned a blind eye to the real Net Neutrality issues. American President Barack Obama batted for net neutrality because he felt American citizens should not face discrimination by getting controlled broadband speed by telecoms.

Broadband user

DoT wants Over-The-Top (OTT) application services to flourish in India. This recommendation will not impact any Indian telecoms.

DoT says OTT communication services dealing with messaging should not be interfered with regulatory instruments. It will be a major relief to messaging firms such as Hike, LINE, etc. Telecoms, who are crying foul about declining SMS revenue, will feel the heat. Idea Cellular, the Aditya Birla group firm, recently said OTT is impacting their SMS revenue.

However, DoT wants Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) OTT communication services to face the music. This is another area, where Indian telecoms score again. WhatsApp, Viber and Skype will face troubles to do business in India in the current format.

DoT says pricing arbitrage of OTT domestic voice communication services has the potential of significantly disrupting existing telecom revenue models. This may decelerate the pace of telecom infrastructure expansion.

IIFL’s analysis on Net neutrality recommendations also says VoIP will impact telecoms.

What are the misses?

DoT’s net neutrality recommendations have become a tool to control VoIP OTT providers. DoT does not talk about the measures to ensure right of the consumer to access quality broadband -– no throttling, no special pricing, etc. — or other services. How is DoT guiding the industry to ensure quality of services to all at the same price.

Baburajan K
[email protected]