Amid criticism for the Net Neutrality report by DoT panel report which suggests ‘regulatory framework’ for Internet calls, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said it is not the final view of the government and a “structured” decision will be taken only after looking into views of all stakeholders.
The suggestions of the panel, if implemented, may lead to free calls offered by apps like Skype and WhatsApp coming to an end. The panel has proposed regulation of domestic calls on Internet-based apps like Skype, Whatsapp and Viber by putting them on par with services offered by telecom operators.
“Net neutrality report has come and I want to make this clear that it is not the report of the government. It is the report of the Department of Telecom,” Prasad told reporters on the sidelines an event here.
“It is the report of a committee of officers which I had constituted to study the entire gamut of net neutrality.” The panel was chaired by DoT Advisor for Technology A K Bhargava and members included officers A K Mittal, V Umashankar, Shashi Ranjan Kumar, G Narendra Nath and R M Agarwal. The minister had asked the panel to study net neutrality operation in various parts of the world and the debate on the issue.
Prasad said that the report is now in public domain for comments and it will be sent to TRAI also. “After the TRAI report, we will take a structured view. Thereafter Cabinet will take a final decision,” Prasad said.
Net neutrality implies that equal treatment be accorded to all Internet traffic and no priority be given to an entity or company based on payment to content or service providers such as telecom companies, which is seen as discriminatory. The DoT panel has said that international Internet-based calls and messaging services should not be regulated.
IT sector body Nasscom has said that if recommendations are implemented, this kind of differentiation between Internet-based communication services may lead to breach of users’ privacy.
Telecom Watchdog, an NGO and co-petitioner in 2G spectrum case, has alleged that the report was a “protectionist policy for the incumbent telecom service providers” and anti-consumer.
“Let me make this very clear that this is not a government report. What I said in Parliament that Narendra Modi government is committed towards providing non-discriminatory Internet access to all the citizens. The details of the architecture are being worked out,” Prasad said on the sidelines of Infocom 2015 event organised by ABP Group.
Telecom operators, which have hailed the report, contend that they are under financial distress and there should be a level-playing field between them and Over-the-Top (OTT) players like WhatsApp and Viber, as these apps are eating into their revenues while using their infrastructure.
The pricing difference is around 12.5 times in the case of a voice call and 16 times for messages between services offered by telecom operators and OTT players, data put together by TRAI showed. For a one-minute phone call, a customer is charged around 50 paise, but a call made using Internet costs 4 paisa to customer, according to TRAI calculations.
They added that “a non-level playing field can adversely impact investments telecom operators are making”. Indian telecom operators have said their cumulative investments in the sector stand at approximately Rs 7.5 lakh crore and further investments of around Rs 5 lakh crore will be required in the next five years to meet the demand.
OTT players, on their part, have said their service has led to a boom in Internet business, which is providing “robust growth to the business of telecom operators”. The panel has opposed projects like Facebook’s Internet.org, which allow access to certain websites without mobile data charges, while suggesting that similar plans such as Airtel Zero, which heated up debate on net neutrality, be allowed with prior clearance from TRAI.