NASSCOM against internet gatekeepers

Differential pricing restricts the choice and the IT body for unfettered access

GN Bureau | January 4, 2016



Indian information technology industry body NASSCOM has urged the nation’s telecom regulator not to allow internet service providers and internet platforms to be the gatekeepers and sought an independent board on differential pricing.

NASSCOM president R Chandrasekhar has said that the consumer should have unfettered access to the internet and any differential pricing which restricts the choice should not be allowed.

NASSCOM finds Airtel Zero and Free Basics by Facebook unacceptable from the net neutrality point of view, Chandrasekhar said. He spoke to media while announcing industry body's response to TRAI's consultation paper on differential pricing for data services. It has submitted its response to TRAI (telecom regulatory authority of India).

NASSCOM has emphasised on the importance of net neutrality in fostering an ecosystem for innovation and start-ups.

“Differential pricing should not become a tool that facilitates market dominance or enables anti-competitive behavior by either TSP or platform provider. It should not offer direct or indirect commercial benefit including leveraging the value of customer data generated in the process,” said Sanjiv Bikhchandani, chairman, NASSCOM Internet Council.

“Further it should not offer lower prices for own or partner content/ service. Instead of differential pricing for select data services for wide access, transparent business models should be adopted without segmenting the internet or skewing competition,” Bikhchandani felt.

Chandrasekhar said “we strongly oppose any model where TSPs or their partners have a say or discretion in choosing content that is made available at favourable rates, speed etc."

“In our response we have highlighted that any large monopolization of access to vast data which has potential commercial value is detrimental to public interest, especially in absence of legislation on privacy,” he added.

Responding to Facebook's justification that app developers are welcome to join Free Basics provided they comply with technical specifications, Chandrasekhar said that it is Facebook which decides, oversees and monitors service that are to be accepted or rejected. This discretion can't be left to the ISPs or internet platforms like Facebook, he said.

For this, NASSCOM recommended establishment of an independent not-for-profit entity with an independent board, who would own and manage proposed differential pricing programs that intends to be in the public interest and are philanthropic in nature.

Noting that NASSCOM is not supporting complete ban on differential pricing, he stressed, if differential pricing has to be done, the conditions should be laid out by the regulator and not the ISP or its partners.

"We recognize that in India there is an obvious need for collective, concerted and focused efforts to enable relevant content, services or access and to overcome the digital divide. It is therefore important that the regulator should have the power to allow differential pricing for certain types/ classes of services that are deemed to be in public interest and based on mandatory prior approvals. Any such programs should abide by the principles of net neutrality and not constrain innovation in any way," he said.

Chandrasekhar said that NASSCOM supports services like GIGATO and mCENT which reimburse data for accessing partnering apps. The reimbursed data can be used by consumers to access any website.

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