Telecom companies want net neutrality and zero rating to co-exist

They seek licensing for OTTs offering communications services and threaten to increase internet charges by six times

Pratap Vikram Singh | April 24, 2015


#net neutrality   #internet   #telecom operators   #zero rate  

Affirming their support ‘net neutrality’ in a circuitous manner, the telecom operators continue to defend zero rating practice. As the pressure over net neutrality builds up the operators on Friday came out with their version of demands and urged the government to bring the VOIP service providers under the licensing regime, demanding “one rule for same type of services”.

“If same rules were not to apply then the only way this industry could be viable is when the data charge go up by six times of what is now,” said Airtel CEO Gopal Vittal on Friday. He was speaking at a conference organized by Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), industry body representing telecom operators, manufacturers.
 
Vittal cited an example of the US, where voice and data are bundled together and are not charged separately. “[In US] whether you make a voice call or a VOIP call it really doesn’t matter. But the rate of data starts at $30 a gigabit. The rate of data here is 25 paise per megabit, which is less than $ 3.5 dollar per gigabit—one six of what it is in the US,” Vittal said. He said this will have adverse impact as a lot of users will stop using the internet.

“We are the ones who make 99 percent of the investment, build large infrastructure. For us to be able to get return from the investment the obvious way out is to charge the customer,” said Himanshu Kapania, MD, Idea Cellular Ltd, adding that with one billion users, this may not be a right proposition. 

The telcos also defended zero rating practice.  “In many countries net neutrality and zero rating coexist as it helps more customers to get on to the internet,” Kapania said.
 
On licensing of OTTs, Vittal said, “we don’t want licensing for OTT world. It gives us road for mobile internet. All we are saying is that when it comes to communications services everyone should be subjected to same rules. We have to meet security obligations, pay license fee and taxes, and contribute (five percent of revenue) to rural infrastructure development fund.” “This artificial arbitrage created by different rules is going to lead to situation where investments are going to get compromised or the data prices are going to go up,” he said.

“The industry estimates the country would need an additional capital outlay of over Rs 5,00,000 crores over the next 10 years in spectrum, new technology, equipment, towers, optical fibre backbone to meet the PM’s vision of Digital India, and connect 1 billion Indians to the exciting world of internet. The need of the hour, therefore, is to have a sustainable industry that has the ability to invest in growth of data services and connectivity to all,” the association said in a statement.

The government, hence, must provide for “pricing flexibility” – in terms of offering toll free access to certain websites and paid access for others – the industry body indicated.

 “Only then can our citizens in rural India, or from a lower economic strata, be empowered through internet access,” the COAI said.

“A customer should be free to choose the device, technology and access platform – paid or subsidized as long as the Internet is always open in terms of access in a non-discriminatory manner,” the telcos body said.

In response to ‘savetheinternet.in’, the telcos body announced ‘Sabka Internet, Sabka Vikas’, to “connect the 1 billion unconnected citizens of India”. Under this initiative, the COAI has urged customers to give a missed call on 18002706899 to support the idea of ‘affordable internet for all’.

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