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Monday, 6 April 2015

A layman answers TRAI’s 20 questions about Net Neutrality and OTT players in India

Read my Previous Blog Post on Net Neutrality and the brief about Consultation paper of TRAI.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has come out with a consultation paper on attempting to define a regulatory, licensing and distribution framework for Over-The-Top (OTT) services on the Internet (click to go to TRAI’s website or Read a simplified version). Just to make clear, OTT encompasses every form of online content and service that is not licensed, regulated and/or distributed by an Internet Service Provider (ISP) or a Telecom Service Provider (TSP) (click to go to source). Quoting from TRAI’s paper, “The best known examples of OTT are Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Chat On, Snapchat, Instagram, Kik, Google Talk, Hike, Line, WeChat, Tango, ecommerce sites (Amazon, Flipkart etc.), Ola, Facebook messenger, BlackBerry Messenger, iMessage, online video games and movies (Netflix, Pandora).TRAI has invited replies from all stakeholders at advqos@trai.gov.in before 24th April, 2015.
The general citizen of India does not realize the implications this paper’s results will have on their choices as a consumer and their Fundamental Right to Freedom of Speech online. The paper’s basic premise and underlying arguments are subtly biased towards the Telcos (or TSPs). It is also lengthy, overly complex and full of legalese which makes a great inhibitor for anyone wishing to be a part of the discussion. Here goes an attempt to simplify the questions and answers for everyone.

Definition of NET NEUTRALITY

(also Network Neutrality or Internet Neutrality): “It is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat ALL data on the Internet EQUALLY, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or modes of communication.”
(For clarity on the definition, see the following video. Head over to Youtube to see other related links)


 

Why Net Neutrality?

Anybody can become a creator, an innovator and a medium of transformation, even if they do not have any “control” over the network. Anybody can create new content, products and services, and share, communicate, enjoy, compete and earn.

Dear TRAI,
As a citizen and layman of India who has a great stake in this country adhering to the principles of democracy, here go my answers to your biased and repetitive questions.

Question 1: Is it too early to establish a regulatory framework for OTT services, since internet penetration is still evolving, access speeds are generally low and there is limited coverage of high-speed broadband in the country? Or, should some beginning be made now with a regulatory framework that could be adapted to changes in the future? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: Any regulatory framework which breaks the principles of Net Neutrality should NEVER be adopted, neither now nor in the future.

Question 2: Should the OTT players offering communication services (voice, messaging and video call services) through applications (resident either in the country or outside) be brought under the licensing regime? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: NEVER because it will hamper consumer choice, stifle growth of new kinds of products and services, and impede India’s economic progress. For example, if airline companies decide to offer online customer service through voice chat, an already heavily taxed and loss-making industry should not have to take another license.

Question 3: Is the growth of OTT impacting the traditional revenue stream of TSPs? If so, is the increase in data revenues of the TSPs sufficient to compensate for this impact? Please comment with reasons.
ANSWER: Radio channels cannot tax television channels for reduction in revenue. Even if OTT players are impacting the traditional revenue streams of TSPs, the TSPs cannot tax OTT services. Market forces should allow TSPs to reach a profitable price-point. TSPs need to invest in the quality and expansion of their existing products. TSPs need to explore outside their traditional revenue streams. India’s economy needs to favour innovative companies’ not outdated incumbents with vested interests.

Question 4: Should the OTT players pay for use of the TSPs network over and above data charges paid by consumers? If yes, what pricing options can be adopted? Could such options include prices based on bandwidth consumption? Can prices be used as a means of product/service differentiation? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: OTT players should NEVER pay TSPs for anything that can entail the violation of principles of Net Neutrality.

Question 5: Do you agree that imbalances exist in the regulatory environment in the operation of OTT players? If so, what should be the framework to address these issues? How can the prevailing laws and regulations be applied to OTT players (who operate in the virtual world) and compliance enforced? What could be the impact on the economy? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: The Internet IS a levelled playing field for everybody. In today’s world, OTT players do not operate solely in the virtual world but, on the contrary, interact with “REAL” world products and services, and result in creation of innumerable jobs. In an ever more connected world, any law or regulation which breaks this ‘FLAT’ and ‘NEUTRAL’ nature of the Internet would harm economic growth.

Question 6: How should the security concerns be addressed with regard to OTT players providing communication services? What security conditions such as maintaining data records, logs etc., need to be mandated for such OTT players? And, how can compliance with these conditions be ensured if the applications of such OTT players reside outside the country? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: This question requires a completely separate debate in itself. First and foremost, governments and all companies should respect and uphold the consumer’s Right to Privacy. If we lose privacy, we lose freedom itself because we no longer feel free to express what we think. India cannot be allowed to become a complete surveillance state which taps every OTT service which a consumer accesses. Second, OTT services should be allowed to freely combine and bundle online communication services within applications, and shouldn't be forced to keep data records. For example, an online vegetable ordering service should not be forced to save online communications between a buyer and seller.

Question 7: How should the OTT players offering app services ensure security, safety and privacy of the consumer? How should they ensure protection of consumer interest? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: All OTT services should adopt state of the art security standards in online communication. And they should keep consumers informed about the right privacy and security choices. In fact, the government should be pro-active in making companies aware of such practices.

Question 8: In what manner can the proposals for a regulatory framework for OTTs in India draw from those of ETNO, referred to in para 4.23 or the best practices summarised in para 4.29? And, what practices should be proscribed by regulatory fiat? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: As already answered, NO regulatory framework is required which violates Net Neutrality.

Question 9: What are your views on net-neutrality in the Indian context? How should the various principles discussed in para 5.47 be dealt with? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: A FREE and OPEN Internet is a pillar of democracy and our fundamental rights. Internet service providers and governments should treat ALL data on the internet EQUALLY, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or modes of communication.

Question 10: What forms of discrimination or traffic management practices are reasonable and consistent with a pragmatic approach? What should or can be permitted? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: Any kind of traffic discrimination or management practices should never violate principles of Net Neutrality. And TSPs should be completely transparent about their traffic management principles.

Question 11: Should the TSPs be mandated to publish various traffic management techniques used for different OTT applications? Is this a sufficient condition to ensure transparency and a fair regulatory regime.
ANSWER: Again, any case by case traffic management of OTT applications, even if it is transparent, violates Net Neutrality. So, this question won’t arise if TRAI ensures Network Neutrality.

Question 12: How should the conducive and balanced environment be created such that TSPs are able to invest in network infrastructure and CAPs are able to innovate and grow? Who should bear the network upgradation costs? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: Free market forces should allow TSPs to reach a price-point where they can profitably invest in network infrastructure. As a municipal water supply does not charge companies making washing machines and does not tax people for using these machines, similarly OTT players should be given a free market to flourish.

Question 13: Should TSPs be allowed to implement non-price based discrimination of services? If so, under what circumstances are such practices acceptable? What restrictions, if any, need to be placed so that such measures are not abused? What measures should be adopted to ensure transparency to consumers? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: Again, DO NOT violate the principles of Net Neutrality.

Question 14: Is there a justification for allowing differential pricing for data access and OTT communication services? If so, what changes need to be brought about in the present tariff and regulatory framework for telecommunication services in the country? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: Again, DO NOT violate the principles of Net Neutrality.

Question 15: Should OTT communication service players be treated as Bulk User of Telecom Services (BuTS)? How should the framework be structured to prevent any discrimination and protect stakeholder interest? Please comment with justification.
ANSWER: ALL data on the Internet is EQUAL. ALL bits are bits, NO need to segregate OTT players. TSPs need to focus on improving their existing products and quality of service.

Question 16: What framework should be adopted to encourage India specific OTT apps? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: Ensure that the principles of Net Neutrality are upheld. TSPs with vested interests should NEVER be able to impede consumer access to any app.

Question 17: If the OTT communication service players are to be licensed, should they be categorised as ASP or CSP? If so, what should be the framework? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: Again, NO regulatory framework required. NO segregation of OTT players required. NO traffic discrimination required. ALL bits are bits. DON’T hamper industry growth. Uphold Net Neutrality.

Question 18: Is there a need to regulate subscription charges for OTT communication services? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: Again, NO regulatory framework required. DON’T hamper industry growth. Uphold Net Neutrality.

Question 19: What steps should be taken by the Government for regulation of non-communication OTT players? Please comment with justifications.
ANSWER: Again, NO regulatory framework required. DON’T segregate or discriminate OTT players. DON’T hamper consumer choice. DON’T hamper industry growth. Uphold Net Neutrality.

Question 20: Are there any other issues that have a bearing on the subject discussed?
ANSWER: Uphold Net Neutrality. Uphold an Open Internet. Uphold the citizens’ Right to Freedom of Speech.

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