Friday 17 July 2015

Net Neutrality | DoT Panel Report, Zero Rating, Airtel Zero,

Why in news?
The DoT Panel submitted its report on Net Neutrality in July 2015

What are the main recommendations?

The Department of Telecommunications’ (DoT’s) Net Neutrality report says “the core principles of Net Neutrality must be adhered to”, and that user rights on the Internet need to be protected — so that service providers are not able to restrict their ability to access any service on the Internet.

Source: The Hindu
While the report is in favour of “legitimate traffic management practices”, it says that TSPs/ISPs must make adequate disclosures to users about their traffic management policies.

Additionally, traffic management that is “exploitative or anti-competitive” should not be allowed. Essentially, if a TSP starts, say, a video-streaming or music service, it cannot slow down the speed of a competing service of a similar nature on its networks.

For a complete picture:

Source: Times of India

Critical Analysis:
  • What is unclear is how the government will make the distinction between VoIP OTTs and Messaging OTTs, as these two spheres are the same now. 
    • Difficult to manage this: The committee has said that while messaging on an OTT service like WhatsApp should not regulated, if the same app also offers voice-calling services, they should be subject to regulations that are already in place for TSPs/ISPs. 
  • A big let-down amid an otherwise progressive narrative in the Department of Telecommunications’ recent report on net neutrality is its recommendation to bring voice over internet protocol-based (VoIP) domestic calling services, including applications such as WhatsApp, under licensing. 
    •  such services be regulated “through exercise of licensing powers available under section 4 of the Indian Telegraph Act to ensure a level playing field.”
    •  obvious implication is that such applications can’t operate without the government’s permission, which might be granted only on the fulfilment of certain conditions or the payment of a fee, or both. 
    •  Still, the stated logic behind such a suggestion is open to question. The report says telecom companies “may become reluctant to invest in expansion of broadband infrastructure” in an environment where apps that provide similar calling services eat into their revenues. Don’t telecom companies benefit from the apps that ride on whatever services they provide? Doesn’t more app usage mean more data consumed, which in turn mean more revenues for telecom companies?
  • There is a big question mark over whether differentiating a domestic VoIP call from an international one is possible at all.
  • Data services and telephone services use DIFFERENT TECH - charging a service based on FUNCTIONALITY and not technology creates major licensing anomalies.
  • But OVERALL- 
    • It’s heartening that the report repeatedly pitches for net neutrality, the principle of data equality that is important to ensure the internet remains a level-playing field. 
    • At the same time, it shows pragmatism in saying that “enforcing net neutrality principle is a new idea and may throw up many questions and problems as we go along,” and that this may require a process of oversight.

[Source: ToI, The Hindu, Indian Express]


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