Telecom industry backs net neutrality, but seeks equality

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Supporting net neutrality, telecom and internet service providers have sought net equality with common rules for the same services to connect a billion citizens across India.

“We fully support net neutrality but seek equality to provide an open, inclusive and affordable access to internet with common rules for the same services,” the telecom industry’s associations COAI and AUSPI said in their joint response to the pre-consultation paper on net neutrality, regulator TRAI issued on May 30.

Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) and Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (AUSPI) represent the telecom and internet service providers across the country.

Noting that the country ranks very low globally in terms of broadband connectivity, the industry said a public policy on net neutrality should enable affordable, equitable and universal broadband services to all citizens.

“The regulator should address the needs of OTT (Over The Top content providers) communication services to ensure a level-playing field as they offer the same services as licensed telecom service providers,” the statement asserted.

Though telecom operators also support OTT communication services, the regulator should address their non-level playing field as they also offer similar services as the telecom service providers.

“Even DoT (Department of Telecom) has acknowledged that in case of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) OTT communication services, regulatory arbitrage existed, bypassing the licensing and regulatory regime and creating a non-level playing field between TSPs and OTT communication services providers,” the associations pointed out.

Asserting that the regulatory framework on net neutrality should not be limited to TSP but apply to all stakeholders such as website, content/applications providers and handset manufacturers, the trade organisations said while telecom providers were subject to strict data privacy rules and consumer information confidentiality provisions, OTT service providers were spared.

“Telecom service providers are in a quandary when they are treated at unequal and lower footing than unlicensed players,” they noted.

Seeking re-definition of net neutrality in the Indian context, the associations asked the regulator to consider affordability and proliferation of the data network to achieve the set targets.

“Net neutrality regulation should provide non-discriminatory internet access to every citizen, implement same service and same rules for all providers, assess and mitigate the potential revenue loss to the government owing to non-regulation of the content or application developers offer as licensed telecom operators,” they said.

The industry also agreed to the DoT’s principles on net neutrality such as no blocking or throttling and improper paid prioritisation.

Both the associations endorsed the users’ right to expression and non-discriminatory access to internet, content, application and services and freedom to connect tp any device, network and service.

Observing that national security and privacy issues were paramount, the associations said the regulatory framework for net neutrality must ensure their primacy and no exception should be made for any service provider, including the OTT players.

Concerned over re-commencement of de novo consultations on net neutrality and OTT players, TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) issued the paper on regulatory framework for OTT services in March 2015 after holding an interactive session with all stakeholders in January 2015.

“We believe that once the government takes a decision on the subject of net neutrality, all the interim/in-between consultation/decisions on differential pricing, free data, etc., will get subsumed into the final decision,” they added.