Indrani Sen: Wanted a stronger industry body for Telecom

17 Sep,2018

By Indrani Sen

About two months back, on July 11, 2018 the Telecom Commission (TC), the highest decision-making body in the telecom ministry, approved TRAI’s recommendation on net neutrality rules that prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from discriminating between their web traffic. This decision ensured that internet for Indians will continue to remain free without any discrimination or restriction.

BBC said earlier that India has “the world’s most progressive policy on equal internet access for all” and we continue to hold that status. India’s reaffirmation of net neutrality has come at a time when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US repealed its free internet rules in December 2017 and allowed internet providers to charge more for certain content or giving preferential treatment to certain websites through commercial agreements.Recently, on August 31, 2018,California state lawmakers passed a bill preventing internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking traffic or providing so-called fast lanes. For the bill to become law, it has to be approved by the Governor of California by the end of September.

The telecom operators in India are not very happy with this decision of the Telecom Commission as they feel that they need to have some control to manage the traffic going through their infrastructure for which they have made investment of crores of rupees. They also think the ruling would curtail the scope of innovation on the medium as ISPs cannot offer any fast lanes for content providers who are ready to pay for the privilege.Young talents within the Advertising & Marketing industry engaged in designing and implementing delivery of content, particularly on various OTT platforms will also be disappointed with the limitation on the scope of innovation.

This decision also means the ruling that service providers cannot make any agreements with services like Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’ or Airtel Zero (services banned later by TRAI) offering only a set of services or websites for free, stays on. However, some critical services and emerging technologies like remote surgery and autonomous cars requiring high-speed internet lanes have been kept out of the ambit of net neutrality rules.

 

The telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajaninformed the media that a committee formed by the Department of Telecom will shortly draw up a list of the technologies that will be allowed the exception and theTelcos will be allowed to use traffic management practices to maintain the quality of service for them as and when required. CDNs (content delivery networks) will also be treated as an exception and will be out of the ambit of the restrictions of net neutrality. It is not clear how the government proposes to regulate the operations of CDNs in India.

 

Some of the media reports mentioned about Government’s plan for spreading WiFi hotspots to rural India. Hindu Business Line reported that “An official, who was part of the meeting, said that the TC has also approved installation of around 12.5 lakh WiFi hotspot in all gram panchayats with viability gap funding of around Rs 6,000 crore by December 2018”.(https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/info-tech/net-neutrality-telecom-panel-approves-trai-recommendations/article24389534.ece). The Commission also cleared the new“National Digital Communications Policy 2018” for approval by the Union Cabinet at the same meeting.

 

Subsequently on August 19, www.livemint.com  reported about TRAI starting consultation for traffic rules for net neutrality – “The telecom regulator will soon start consultations over a framework for traffic management practices as well as the structure of a multi-stakeholder body outlined in the net neutrality principles, according to a senior TRAI official”. (https://www.livemint.com/Industry/cvf8xlYB4PpBy5NT25AmsI/Trai-consultation-soon-on-traffic-rules-for-net-neutrality.html).

Currently, there is a need of a strong industry body for the telecom sector. In 1995, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI)https://www.coai.com/about-usbut unfortunately the association does not function as the spokes person of the industry, nor does it take a leading role in negotiating with TRAI and the Telecom Ministry. There is strong competition among the telecom companies and currently the sector is facing a financial crisis largely triggered by price wars since Mukesh Ambani-led Reliance Jio’s entry. However, considering the emerging importance of the sector in shaping the digital future of India, the telecom companies should get together and form a stronger association to lead the interactions with TRAI and the Telecom Ministry for forming the rules and regulations.

 

 

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