Net neutrality is lost in the confusing language of Trai’s draft OTT regulations
A few days ago, the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) released its consultation paper on the regulatory framework for over-the-top (OTT) services. This term – as defined in the document – refers to all the apps and services you can access online – from Gmail to Facebook, to news websites like NDTV.com or even apps like Uber or Foodpanda.
This article has major implications for all Indians; At a time when our lives are becoming increasingly digital, the guidelines laid out in this document are not just for a few tech-geeks. Among other things, the document aims to address topics such as net neutrality and whether telecom operators have the right to charge services such as Skype and the recently unveiled WhatsApp voice calls differently from other uses. of data.
(Also see: What is net neutrality? Here is a simple explanation)
This is a significant issue as companies like Airtel have shown they want to charge extra for accessing services like Skype as they compete with the company’s voice business. Instead of improving their own offer, telecommunications operators have the possibility of simply putting up barriers to gain access to competition.
We’ve seen Trai make carrier-friendly statements before, and experts tell us that while the behavior of companies like Airtel might be anti-competitive, India’s Competition Commission might not be able to intervene until that the effects on the market will not be visible.
The idea behind net neutrality is important, and when the regulator seems to be listening to only one side of the debate – as its comments and some of the document’s language suggest – that is a serious concern. At least on paper, you have a chance to make your voice heard.
(Also see: Anyone thinking about net neutrality in India?)
You can read the consultation paper yourself on Trai’s website. The regulator is seeking input from all stakeholders by April 24 — including consumers like you and me — and we urge our readers to read this article and then send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. in to let your government know what you expect.
The consultation document is a long and honestly difficult document to follow, but after reading it several times, there are some things that we think are important enough to share with our readers – and with Trai. The most important fact is that the arguments made against the so-called OTT players in this document are often without merit.
The document gives examples of how OTT players are potentially harmful due to a lack of regulation, but these are either glaring; or Trai cannot substantiate these ideas; or does so by choosing the few examples that support his point while ignoring all the other counterexamples. The entire document is also written in a way that seems designed to obscure understanding, as you will see in some of the examples we highlight below. That’s a problem in itself, given that Trai asks stakeholders to share their views, but the issues that this muddled language tries to hide are even more concerning.
This – point 1.4 of the document – is at the heart of the argument against OTTs, and the language makes it clear that if Trai asks for opinions, his decision has already been made. By simply defining OTTs, Trai states that they use telecom carrier infrastructure to make money and compete with telecom carriers. This ignores the enormous risks associated with online businesses, in which telecom operators have no role to play; the challenge of building and maintaining a product, in which telecommunications operators have no role; and ignores the fact that the telecommunications operators themselves have not taken advantage of their infrastructure to provide users with the services they want.
In Chapter 2, Trai notes that the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) claims that OTT players offering Internet telephony without a telecommunications license are circumventing Indian law. However, as Trai himself notes, calling a phone from an app like Skype or Viber requires interconnection with the telco, which earns money for the call. The other argument is that since these services are not regulated, they do not have to offer a minimum quality guarantee, nor emergency calls.
While it’s debatable whether our telecom operators adhere to a minimum quality, it’s also important to note that these call services do not replace traditional voice calls, especially true in India, where simply moving a few steps in your home could mean your cellular data is disconnected. . Therefore, these issues don’t really come into play, as voice calls are still the best way to talk to someone.
What’s interesting about COAI’s argument is that Google and Facebook are both part of the association. Google’s Hangouts and Facebook’s Messenger could both be negatively affected by the need for licensing – but these giant companies could speed up the process. Small businesses would have a harder time, which could help shield these global giants from Indian disruption.
Here, Trai points out that SMS revenues for GSM operators decreased by around 2%, between December 2012 and December 2013. CDMA operators saw a decline of 0.14% in the same time, and cost the industry up to Rs. 4,000 crores. This would be impressive proof of the harm OTTs are doing to the industry, but again, it ignores a lot of things.
For one thing, it doesn’t really explore “missed call” services like ZipDial. It used to be that businesses used SMS – often paid for by customers – to communicate with their users, but many have moved to a missed call model as the audience was more likely to respond. Companies have also improved their communication through their websites and social networks. You can even talk to your telco on Twitter if you have a billing issue, although the effectiveness of their responses is quite questionable.
Messaging software certainly has an impact too, but that’s far from the only reason SMS is losing popularity – the service itself is limited and offers a compromised experience compared to chat apps, so why should people use it?
Trai notes that revenue generated by data (Rs.0.04 per minute) is lower than revenue generated by a local voice call (Rs.0.50 per minute) for the same duration. Trai bases this on a report that says a one-minute voice call uses 150 data. Skype however claims that a voice call is typically 1MB for one minute of use.
We ran some tests and found that WhatsApp voice calling used around 500KB and Hangouts used around 600KB. a voice call service can also be a gateway to the Internet and can entice people to use more data, which translates into more revenue for telecom operators.
Trai notes that OTT video services hurt telecom provider offerings. This would be more relevant were it not for the fact that for years Indian telecom operators have been content to focus on the “ABCs” of astrology, Bollywood and cricket. User-generated was not possible, and only the safest and most popular content would ever be promoted.
But the last sentence of this point is perhaps the most amazing.
When Internet access and use becomes widespread and broadband becomes available, some content owners and operators who until now had to negotiate with telecom operators (or television operators) to reach consumers will be able to to no longer do so and will be able to interact directly with the consumer via a web page.
In other words, Trai also recognizes that telecom operators had no incentive to compete for consumer interest because there was no alternative, and wants those “glory days” to return.
Here, what is amazing is that Trai seems to blame websites and apps for being hacked or attacked in other ways. In Part C, he discusses how people can use denial of service attacks to shut down a site – which is apparently the site’s fault, since there’s no obligation to keep the service up.
In chapter 4, point 13, Trai notes how Korean telecom operators are trying to fight messaging apps by creating a better SMS service. However, in 4.14 he instead points out how tiered services in the UK allow telecom operators to keep their money safe without going through all that terrible trouble.
In the next few points, Trai also gives examples from other countries to support the need for OTT regulation. Considering that international examples are used as guidelines, it is interesting that Norway is not mentioned, as it is one of the most important pro-Net neutrality states in the world. While the US FCC rules are mentioned which classify broadband as a public service, Trai is quick to note that this is only a draft and adds that the draft rules have already opened the doors to disputes.
Many questions can be raised by Trai’s view on net neutrality, but it’s a topic that would take even longer to discuss. However, the basic principles of net neutrality are mostly customer-friendly, and Trai seems to support it with a few exceptions. As the text above shows, Trai wants to try and find common ground on net neutrality – that’s a little worrying given the rest of Trai’s project, which shows a clear pro-telco slant.
(Also see: Trai’s draft OTT regulation goes far beyond telecommunications for no reason)
These are just some of the questions raised by our reading of Trai’s article. Confusing language is present throughout the document, and there are constant references to issues that seem completely out of place and unrelated to the telecommunications industry, such as health, cyberbullying, and social responsibility. While there are some places where Trai seems to take note of tiered pricing issues, FUPs, and difficulties with regulating all the apps and websites available in India, these are few and far between. Take a look at your phone right now. See how many apps you have installed. Taken as a whole, the Trai document suggests that each of them must obtain a license to be used in India. This is how this document affects you, so read the journal and write to Trai before April 24th.
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