Telecom industry vs net neutrality
On 27th March 2015, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India publishes a paper. They call it “Consultation Paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services”. It’s part of an effort to dismantle net neutrality in India. The big telco and COAI is behind this move. On 6th April 2015, AirTel gives first blow to net neutrality with AirTel Zero. We analyze the situation from a citizen’s perspective.
ISP/TSP/Telco = Telecom Service Provider (Companies like Airtel), OTT = Over the top services (Apps like WhatsApp).
Amit just graduated from an engineering college with a B.Tech degree. He is an internet enthusiast. He updates his Facebook and Twitter on a regular basis. He’s made a WhatsApp group where he and his 20 friends hang out. A while back when he was stuck with a physics problem, I introduced him to Wolfram Alpha. Since he has become an Alpha loyalist. Also, he buys stuff from Amazon since they sell the same products for lower rates than local market. He is free to do whatever he wants because internet is a democracy.
Now, for a guy from a middle-class family in Delhi, this freedom comes at a price. He has to save 655 rupees from his monthly allowance of 5,000 rupees. Because this is what AirTel charges him for using 3GB of 3G cellular data. That is on top of Rs. 1800 he has to pay for his smartphone EMIs. It’s no big deal for him because internet is first priority for today’s youth.
Sounds familiar? Well, it does to me. Because Amit lives next door to me. We grew up together. I graduated 1 year ahead of him. Now I work at AbacusDesk and Amit is currently looking for a job. I’ve seen a lot of guys like Amit. In fact, I’ve only seen guys like him. I’m also one of them. May be you are too. If you are not, you for sure do know people like us. India has 25 croreof us who belong to lower-middle class families.
Now why am I telling you all this? I just heard that AirTel wasn’t making enough money. 2,773 crore in net profits can’t buy wine on their dining tables. So they are pushing TRAI to do something against this freedom. They want us to charge more for using WhatsApp, and nothing for using Flipkart. They want command over us.
And authorities are clueless, as they always have been since the British left us. So TRAI has asked for people’s help: a big 118 page consultation paper. Government authorities, like other institutions have a tendency to make simple things complex. The big telco is clearly lobbying against the freedom internet provides to people. This document looks more like written from inside of AirTel HQ than Mahanagar Doorsanchar Bhawan. Their primary goal is to completely destroy net neutrality. This will help them charge customers with whatever they want.
In fact, the big telco has already started implementing maneuvers to throttle online freedom. AirTel Zero will provide selected companies free access on AirTel network. That means AirTel will let you use these apps for free. Flipkart has already shown interest in this. Flipkart will pay AirTel big bucks and AirTel will let them play monopoly. If you wanna use shopping apps other than Flipkart, you have to pay more.
Update: Flipkart has backed out of AirTel Zero after protests from net neutrality supporters.
Telecom operators are giving free access to selected companies and charging for others. They are violating net neutrality in broad daylight.
So what’s at stake?
“The dream behind the Web is of a common information space in which we communicate by sharing information. Its universality is essential: the fact that a hypertext link can point to anything, be it personal, local or global, be it draft or highly polished.” Tim Berners-Lee (father of the world wide web)
When Tim Berners-Lee invented world wide web (internet for the rest of us), he had no clue that big ISPs like AirTel would become so desperate over profiteering from internet. He just wanted it to be a universal and incorruptible communication medium. ISPs should not take any sides. And this is what net neutrality says, that all internet traffic should be treated equally. Now big corporations, of course, don’t like this. So they do whatever they can do to increase profits and snatch money from people.
How exactly WhatsApp and other “OTT” players have become competitors of AirTel. Big telcos like AirTel are losing 4,000 crore per year because of WhatsApp. People don’t take their SMS plans anymore, as they can IM for free. Heck, with WhatsApp and other IM services, you can even send free messages on national holidays.
WhatsApp is totally freein India. They don’t even ask for yearly charges like they do in most other countries. Now this is revolutionary. And a big blow to telcos who at times deduct 50 rupees just for clicking on an ad.
Value added services? Give me a break. They don’t add any value at all.
These “OTT” guys are providing something of value, we all know that. But big telco doesn’t like them, not one little bit. Now why is that? We don’t know. The authorized document looks a little biased towards the big telco’s lack of revenues. Though TRAI mentions that there will be no decline in SMS and value added services. And data revenues will increase by a factor of 3.5 by 2020. Yet the big telco is moaning, why?
They have been trying to control the influence of OTTs with their cheap tactics. Some of these which clearly violate net neutrality are there in the TRAI document.
- Fair usage policies
- Bandwidth caps
- Toll boothing
- Traffic management
ISPs propose that because of international players, those small brick-and-mortal players are dying. Let us tell you why they are wrong.
- In this age of globalization can you define international? SingTel (Singapore-based firm) owns 32.34% shares in AirTel. Vodafone (UK-based firm) owns another 5%. Flipkart is no more Indian than AirTel is. They are all businesses, like OTTs.
- The significance of e-commerce is not that high in India. With only 17.22% internet penetration, e-commerce cannot take over traditional business models.
- Customers should have a choice. If they are getting something cheaper they will go for it. Why should they pay more for the same quality product?
And these “OTT” businesses are creating local jobs as well. In the end, it’s the people who are getting the benefits, not corporations. This is why corporations will always hate net neutrality.
What’s the net neutrality scene outside India
In US, FCC has already made clear that there can be no tempering with net neutrality.
Our aim is to protect the open internet, advancing principles of net neutrality by prohibiting broadband providers from elevating one kind of content over another. – FCC (United States of America)
Chile was the first nation to address net neutrality issue. In its General Communications Law 2010, it made its net neutrality provisions. On 1 June 2014, Chile put an end to “zero-rating”, an AirTel Zero like service. In 2011, Netherlands made it clear that they support net neutrality. Same year Israel passed a law that made net neutrality mandatory in mobile broadband. They extended it to line broadband on 10 Feb, 2014.
On 3 Apr 2014, EU voted to protect Google and Netflix from telecom charges. Brazil passed its net neutrality bill on 22 Apr 2014. Now it’s our turn.
People Unite! And save net neutrality.
The big telco will do everything in its power to kill net neutrality. We, as free citizens have a responsibility to bust their smear campaign.
Even TRAI wants us to do something about it. Send emails to TRAI and tell that we don’t want ISPs to infect the internet.
PEOPLE UNITE! You have power. Protect net neutrality, protect your freedom.