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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 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.

How Airtel, Vodafone & TRAI are trying to screw Indian internet users.

Perhaps you've heard of this phrase "net neutrality". And about some tussle over it.

And perhaps you've let it slide from your consciousness, because it doesn't seem like it could concern you, especially in India.

But lend me your eyes for a few minutes and let me tell you how India's telcos and telecom regulators are trying to pull wool over them.

First, is there a problem now? Actually no. You've enjoyed the internet, the way it's supposed to be - freely and fully, till now. But in 16 days from the day I write this - April 22, 2015, the telecom regulators in India are preparing to recommend that it all change. Against you.

Here's what the big fight is all about.

Till recently, the telecom companies had enjoyed a great run in India, making tens of thousands of crores in profits over a long run, as India grew to 800 million mobile phone users from virtually nothing.

During this time, they've largely focused on selling voice minutes - while at the back end they have been using voice over internet protocol (or VOIP) to connect with other telcos and deliver calls using the internet. And given that the cost of VOIP is a tiny fraction of the cost of traditional voice calls they were charging, they raked in the moolah.

But, now thanks to the likes of WhatsApp and Skype and Google Hangouts, consumers can get the same voice calls delivered at internet prices, direct to their handsets. And this has the telcos running scared. Their margins are eroding.

So now the telcos want to charge for the internet differently, based on how you use it. By now you're saying - sure, if I use more bits and bytes, I'm ready to pay more. Actually, as bandwidth is infinite, the cost of bandwidth goes down globally all the time, you rarely pay more. But the telcos know this.

No - this is different - they want the right to charge what they want, when they want and how they want, with no logic whatsoever. In effect, if Airtel doesn't like YouTube but wants to push its own video app Wynk - it wants the right to offer that for free while charging you a bomb to access YouTube.

One of our telcos, Reliance, has already gone ahead with this Facebook-driven evil scheme called - where you can access Bing for free, but you have to pay to access Google - and you have access to BabaJobs for free, while you have to pay for They've sold it as a "solution for poor countries" but what they really mean is that it's a "solution to keep countries poor".

This breaks the very nature of the Internet.

In the US, this kind of differential pricing at whim has been made illegal. The US government has ruled strongly in favour of net neutrality.

But in India, the telcos have managed to get one person to write a "consultation paper" on behalf of the supposedly-independent TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) asking for public opinion on allowing telcos to break net neutrality.

The note - which is terribly written, and deeply biased - is at - and if you don't want to read through 117 pages of shoddily-written propaganda full of deliberately confusing jargon, there's a much shorter summary by Nikhil Pahwa of Medianama at Http:// and a set of answers to frequently-asked questions at Http://

But if you want the really, really, really short summary, here is logic in the TRAI paper: Telcos have invested lots of money to build out the network. They used to make a lot of money off it. But now other people are making money on this network, because they innovated while the telcos did not - so this is a bad thing. So we need to let telcos charge people however they want so telcos can make the money they need. Basically: poor telcos. Sob, sob, sniff, sniff.

This TRAI Consultation Paper is a load of complete bullshit.

For the following reasons. The first fallacy: that the telcos did us a favour. To start with, the airwaves are ours, the people of India's. Telcos bid for and paid a license fee to our representatives, the government of India, to temporarily license our airwaves to sell their networks on it. So building out the telecom network in India wasn't a favour someone did for us - we asked these firms to do it and they paid us for it and profit from it. They knew what they were buying, they paid for it, and they got it. Now the world has moved past their fat margins on their outdated technologies, and they've failed to innovate. Other people, not telcos, have built WhatsApp and Skype. Their problem. Not ours.

Second fallacy, these firms are hurting financially. Nonsense again. Look at the publicly-quoted revenue figures of Indian telcos - and you'll find that, like in any other business, some did very well, some did very badly and others did middlingly okay. Like in any other business. And look at them historically - they've all more than recovered the amounts they bid for the spectrum. No one is in the poorhouse. And even if they get into the poorhouse in the future, we don't have any sovereign duty to help them out. Business is Darwinian. They didn't innovate, we don't need to bail them out.

Third fallacy, that there is a natural reason we need to be telco-friendly as technology changes. Nope again. Consider this analogy. We own our water. Let's say we want to license a firm or set of firms to distribute our water to residents across town. Some private and public firms, after open and transparent bidding, get these licenses. They distribute water, charge for it and all is well.

Now, after a little while, one person who gets water decides to use it to make soft drinks. He uses more water, and pays for it, at the agreed-to rate. And he sells the soft drinks. Another uses the water, pays for it, and sets up beautiful water fountains that people pay him to come and see. A third uses the water, pays for it, and opens a water park, where kids come and enjoy themselves.

Now imagine that the water distribution companies could have done any and all of these things all along - but chose not to. Now they get jealous of these other businesses - and want to be allowed to charge soft-drink users and water-park visitors any fee, without any logic, without it being based on water usage.

Another analogy. Imagine if your electricity distribution companies - Tata or Reliance / BSES or whoever would suddenly get up and start charging more for electricity from you if you used efficient light bulbs, or if you were used appliances that consumed less electricity. Because they made less money as a result of your smartness.

You'd say it was ridiculous. It is.
The TRAI paper is trying to make a make-believe case that telcos and ISPs who chose not to innovate should be compensated for their incompetence.

What can we end up with if we allow this to pass?

Once, shoddier products. Like Reliance and Facebook who are together offering Facebook for free and Twitter at a price, or Babajobs free but asking you to pay to access Naukri, or forcing you to use Bing because it is free unlike Google - allowing anti-net-neutrality will make our internet experience worse. And I say this, not because I have any grudge against Facebook, Babajobs and Bing - but because I think we consumers should have the ability to pick whichever social network, job site and search engine we want - and not leave it to some rapacious telco or social network to decide what we should use.

Two, higher bills. It's one thing to charge for bandwidth - and no one should have a problem with that. The price of that is falling anyway, as it should. Today, I have a 5 mbps connection at home for the same amount that I used to have a 256 kbps connection a few years ago. And I'm happy to pay for 10mbps too, if it comes to my home or my phone and does so at price I can afford. Or I can choose to save money and stay at 5 mbps as it becomes cheaper. It's my choice.

But it is completely wrong for me to have to pay Airtel or Vodafone or some ISP any money to specifically access YouTube, or Skype, or any particular site that they decide to charge for at their whim and fancy. These folks are the pipe-layers and their job is to push stuff through the pipes - which we can pay for, based on how much of the stuff they push is used by us. They have no other rights.

What we do with the bandwidth must be up to us, not up to some profiteering telecom tycoon in Gurgaon or Mumbai.

So what can you do to help?
The telcos, their cosy cabal, the COAI (Cellular Operators Association of India) and the author of the TRAI paper are trying to push through anti-net-neutrality in India.

My request to you is to do your little bit to stop it, and to ensure net neutrality.

There are a few things you can do. One - sign this petition over at

Two, write directly to TRAI at "". The author of TRAI's paper may be biased - but it is a government body after all - and they have to listen to you. Here's one suggested text of what you can mail them - do modify at will:

Dear TRAI, I am writing to express my concern against the actions that telecom carriers are taking to restrict fair access to the internet (Net Neutrality). I believe the internet is a vital resource - it helps me communicate, work, and thrive as a citizen. If telecom operators can discriminate internet traffic on the basis of which services pay the most, we are allowing telcos control over a vital and necessary technological resource. By doing so we allow them to define what information we can view; what entertainment we can access; and how companies can innovate.

This is completely unfair and harms India's long term role in the global market. I strongly believe the growth of telecoms and the well-being of the internet can go hand-in-hand. I'm asking for a framework to ensure long term and fair access for all services regardless of size. I want my generation and those that come after me to have unfettered access to the Internet, with no telcos or ISPs having the ability to charge for specific services I use on top of it. Please understand that the internet is an important resource and vital to me and to every other Indian citizen. I would like to see it kept free and protected under Net Neutrality to ensure fair and equal access for all and forever. Regards, {Your Name}

Three, if you do have access to Ravi Shankar Prasad, the telecom minister - or anybody else in the ruling party - tell them that you believe strongly in net neutrality and that you expect the government to take a strong stand on it.

I don't have that access - so I can also suggest a fourth option: share this piece on LinkedIn, or on Facebook or on Twitter, or on email - and get it across to your others. Someone, somewhere who reads it can make a call, make a point, or make a big difference.

We have 2 weeks left. Let's not allow the telcos to get away with this.

Read my blog post on
  A layman answers TRAI’s 20 questions about Net Neutrality and OTT players in India
And thank you for taking the time to read this.

Karthic keyan