By: Rishi Raj
A government-appointed committee has veered around to the view that law should be put in place to explicitly prohibit mobile operators from offering differential tariffs for internet-based voice calls and data surfing as well as sponsored data such as Airtel Zero or Facebook’s Internet.org. Such offerings, the committee feels, go against the tenets of net neutrality. The view is sure to upset telcos that are losing out to over- the-top (OTT) players like WhatsApp and Skype that offer voice and messaging services. The committee is yet to submit its views to the department of telecommunications but has held several meetings.
The proposed law will clearly lay down when an operator can block sites or slow down speeds, which would be allowed only if it spots illegal content, spam, viruses and as part of traffic management during periods of congestion or emergency.
Sources familiar with the committee’s thinking said that it appreciated that telcos had made huge investments and also that voice services were a dominant business for them. However, it felt that the evolution of technology cannot be stopped. “Technology can be disruptive and operators have to adapt their business models or perish,” a source said.
Net neutrality means all end users are able to access content, applications and services of their choice at the same level of service quality, internet speed and price with no priority or degradation based on the type of content, applications or services.
Sources said the committee, which was earlier expected to submit its report by the second week of May, would now complete its work by the end of the month. However, a final decision on the report would be awaited by the government till the time the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) submits its report on the matter. Though the government has the final power to take a call on the matter of net neutrality as it is a policy issue, it wants to go by the set precedent that a Trai report be first submitted.
The Trai consultation process on whether to bring OTT operators, who provide free calling apps that use the voice over Internet protocol route, need to be brought under some kind of regulatory mechanism is under way but the report may be delayed.
This is because chairman Rahul Khullar demitted office on Wednesday after completing his three-year term. Though technically Trai can go ahead and finish the exercise, pragmatism suggests that it waits till a new chairman takes charge. FE
Blow to Telcos
* The committee feels that law should be put in place to explicitly prohibit mobile operators from offering differential tariffs for internet-based voice calls and data surfing as well as sponsored data.
* The law will lay down when an operator can block sites or slow down speeds, which would be allowed if it spots illegal content and as part of traffic management during periods of congestion.