The government and internet users have been pushing for Net Neutrality (NN) that prohibits telecom service providers (TSPs) from levying discriminatory rates for data. But is that really going to help a bigger segment of Indian internet users across the country. Certainly not. The issue has to be seen through a naked eye, with a holistic approach and not through a prism.
The controversy started on 8 February 2016, when India’s telecom regulator, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) ruled in favour of Net Neutrality in India, prohibiting TSPs from levying discriminatory rates for data. The decision was taken following million emails from citizens, political parties and many other social organizations voting for NN.
But despite the proliferation of data and internet penetration across the country, a sizeable users of these services are unable to operate basic internet services, leave aside heavily loaded websites that facilitate users to access their day-to-day functioning, be it banking, basic utilities like, water, electricity and other government services. Crores of data users in the remotest villages still don’t have access to faster data 3G or 4G services, negating the very need for internet access and actually reaping the benefits.
So the question is how and why is it so ? The answer is simple. The TSPs who have built and set-up their infrastructure over the 25 years in India, are bleeding. Banks do not lend money and with a huge outgo of fund to manage and operate telecom services have left TSPs with no money to further develop, expand or maintain their infrastructure.
As a result, the duck, which laid golden eggs for years is in a mess. Adding to the woes are shrinking tariffs and regulatory hurdles.
TRAI has not addressed the concerns raised by TSPs, which has been demanding for same service, same rules. Essentially two entities, offer the same service, but are governed by different rules. In this case are the Over-the-Top (OTT) service providers like WhatsApp, Viber, Skype, Google others that ride on telecom network, without paying TSPs. Telcos, have argued for a required regulation and policy neutrality that hasn’t been addressed by the regulator.
Here prioritisation, of services would have been an important step to ensure delivery of essential services without delay. This would have facilitated the basic need for data and internet services to the nook and corner of the country. Besides this would have given impetus to inclusive government’s push to inclusive growth.
While, TSPs have adhered to the norms and terms and conditions of the licence agreement mandate, that TSPs ensure the protection of the privacy of communications and user data, complying with strict rules on customer confidentiality and record keeping, among others, these regulations are not binding on these OTTs. This uneven playing field for the industry, not only compromises on national security but also unlawful in the natural course of justice.
The present recommendations on Net Neutrality, doesn’t fully take into account, the requirements for India and do not sufficiently address, crucial national security issues, that come with most OTTs, where access remains a priority issue and connecting the next billion, is a priority.
Similarly, putting new and emerging technologies like the Internet of Things ( IoT), under the principles of Net Neutrality is not an advisable step. This is neither practical nor conducive. Prioritisation, here of services would have been an important step to ensure delivery of essential services without delay.