HOME > BUSINESS > New TRAI net neutrality paper is a breath of fresh air after the last one

New TRAI net neutrality paper is a breath of fresh air after the last one

trai
TRAI Chairman RS Sharma

The latest consultation paper by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India on telecom providers charging different prices for browsing different websites — the so-called differential pricing of data — comes across as a breath of fresh air after the last one, issued under former chairman Rahul Khullar.

While Khullar started with the assumption that net neutrality was not mandated by the existing law, the new paper starts by saying that ‘transparent and non-discriminatory pricing’ of telecom services is required by the law.

In other words, a telecom operator like Bharti Airtel or Vodafone cannot charge Rs 200 per GB for browsing the Times of India and only Rs 10 per GB for browsing Hindustan Times.

The last consultation paper by the TRAI was primarily concerned about operators’ profits, with the Authority expressing its worry that rising data use could hurt Indian operators’ profits.

This had led to unprecedented protests by Internet users in India, ending in an avalanche of a million emails to the regulator.

This time the authority — under new chief RS Sharma — has kept itself away from discussions about whether operators will make more money or less money because of data, and focused largely on a single point mentioned in the previous net neutrality paper — the question of ‘free Internet’ for the poor.

Indeed, free Internet for the poor is a pet theme of Facebook, the second biggest data-traffic generator in India (after Youtube.)

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has impressed upon the current government the need to provide free Internet to economically backward sections of the people, and the TRAI paper is essentially an attempt to see if this service can be allowed, and if so, under what conditions.

However, while Facebook may rejoice that its ‘Free Basics’ program is the subject of a regulatory consultation process, the new paper is unlikely to bring much cheer to the telecom companies because their main concern — profitability — has not found a place in TRAI’s discussion yet. In addition, their key demand — allowing ‘Zero Rating’ plans, has also not been treated sympathetically in the paper.

‘Zero Rating’ is a scheme under which the telecom operator takes money from the owners of websites in return for facilitating free and easy access by its customers to these websites. The website and app owners pay for ensuring smooth and cheap access to their websites and services.

Operators argue that such ‘Zero Rating’ schemes are already prevalent in voice services in the form of toll-free numbers.

However, unlike in case of voice — where there is only the price dimension — there are two dimensions to a data service — price and speed (bandwidth). While giving free access to 10 or 20 websites and apps may not hurt the whole of the Internet, giving preferential access  in terms of bandwidth will in a spectrum starved country like India.

The analogy with toll-free calling facility fails for this reason, as the provision of a toll-free number to your neighbor will not affect the quality of quality of voice calls that you are able to make, unlike in data.

This is a concern in competitive areas like e-commerce, where companies are looking for new ways to prevent their competitors from carrying out their business. An online shopping app could buy preferential access to a telecom companies’ customers, and if the rival’s app hangs or becomes slow as a result, the buyer of the preferential access can easily recover the money from increased sales.

This is especially a concern in a country like India where the experience on mobile Internet tends to far less than satisfactory. If and when operators are allowed to prioritize the traffic to and from the websites that are part of their toll-free service, the rest of the Internet will become almost inaccessible due to the proportionate reduction in bandwidth.

In other words, Amazon’s app may take ten times more to load compared to a rival who is in the Zero Rating program. To compete, Amazon will have no option but to pay the telecom operator to ensure that its app does not ‘hang’. While Amazon may be able to do so, this will prevent the emergence of smaller start-ups in online retailing as they are unlikely to be able to afford the kind of budgets that big, established players bring to the table.

This, essentially is the danger that the TRAI has highlighted in its consultation paper without using terms such as net neutrality.

In fact, the TRAI did not even go down into bandwidth issues. It flagged the concern purely from a pricing stand-point.

“Differential tariffs arguably disadvantage small content providers who may not be able to participate in such schemes,” the consultation paper points out. “Such providers may have difficulty in attracting users, if there exist substitutes for free. This may thus, create entry barriers and non-level playing field for these players stifling innovation.”

“In addition,” said the TRAI, “one can also argue that differential tariffs can be used as a tool by the telecom service providers to incentivize or disincentive access to different contents available on the internet by varying the price of access, upward or downward. Theoretically this might entail providing certain content for free while making other content prohibitively expensive for subscribers to access. Allowing service providers to perform what effectively amounts to a gate keeping function might potentially empower TSPs to select certain content providers and disadvantage others, thereby adversely affecting public interest,” it added.

The consultation paper also wondered whether telecom companies will end up buying or building their own apps, news websites, video services and search companies, and drive their customers into using these services by making them free or nearly free, while making competing services unaffordable.

“Telecom service providers may start promoting their own websites, apps and service platforms by giving lower rates for accessing them… This may be perceived to be an anticompetitive move that stifles innovation and competition, leaving absolute power in the hands of the telecom service providers,” it said.

However, said the regulator, since the telecom operators and social networks were very keen on helping the poor by offering free data, some way must be found to allow them to do so.

“One approach might be to delink free internet access from specific content, and instead limit it by volume or time,” it said.

Facebook, for example, offers free data only if it is for browsing their own or their partners’ websites. However, said TRAI, telecom and social networking companies could think of removing such a restriction and instead offer only a limited amount of data for the consumer to use as he wishes.

Aircel Cellular has already launched such a scheme. If a new subscriber uses the ‘first recharge coupon’ or FRC of Rs 144, he or she would get free Internet for 90 days.  The speed or bandwidth of this service will be capped at 64 kbps (2G speed).

TRAI also came up with certain suggestions.

“For instance, a telecom service provider could provide initial data consumption for free, without limiting it to any particular content. Current examples of this approach include allowing free browsing or discounted tariffs for specified time windows, or giving away a certain amount of data daily for free,” it pointed out.

TRAI also suggested that if a website like Facebook wanted to help poor people, it could reimburse those who visit the website in terms of talk time or money. The websites can in turn recover that money from the advertising revenue generated by these visitors.

“The other approach of promoting access through the Internet could be initiated by the content providers wherein they could reimburse the cost of browsing or download to the customers directly irrespective of which telecom provider he or she has used to visit the website. Coupons, direct money transfers or other methods and technologies can be employed to reward the users for their visits to these websites. The direct money transfer approach has been adopted in some initiatives that offer mobile credit to all consumers, in exchange for viewing advertisements,” TRAI said.

Follow ULTRA.news
TRAI to hear the public on net neutrality in open house this month The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has started registrations for an open house discussion on its upcoming recommendations on net neutrality.The open house discussion will be held on Wednesday, August 30 at 9:30 AM in New Delhi. The venue has not been finalized yet, and...
Vodafone slashes 4G offer prices after Airtel, Idea reveal explosion of data Vodafone India renewed efforts to promote its cut-price voice and data offerings in recent days as the latest quarterly numbers from rivals Idea Cellular and Bharti Airtel suggested they had given out bigger discounts in the April-June period than anyone had expected.Earlier ...
BSNL halves 2Mbps unlimited plan to Rs 599 from 1,199 Faced with a slowdown due to the emergence of the pan-India competitor Reliance Jio, state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd has halved the price of its unlimited 2 Mbps DSL broadband plan to 599 per month.BSNL NEW UNLIMITED BROADBAND PLANThe player was earlier offering unl...
TCS to create apps on Siemen’s IoT platform MindSphere Tata Consultancy Services said it will create applications on MindSphere, the cloud-based, open IoT operating system from Siemens.TCS CEO Rajesh GopinathanIoT stands for 'Internet of Things' and refers to connectivity between two machines over the Internet, with zero h...
After Zee Entertainment, Sun TV slashes channel prices ahead of TRAI rules After Zee Entertainment, it is the turn of Sun TV to slash its channel prices with effect from Sept 1 in anticipation of the implementation of new channel pricing rules by TRAI.The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had, three months ago, announced that media companies...
Times Group introduces ‘exclusive’ content online for subscribers Times Group, India's largest media group, has taken a step towards what may eventually be a paid model for online news by introducing 'exclusive' content for registered users.For now, registration and membership is free. Users can sign in using their Facebook or Google ID...
Bharti Airtel could help Reliance Jio win Rs 2,000 cr from DoT Bharti Airtel's attempts to avoid paying "voice conversion charge" on the spectrum that it is purchasing from internet service provider Tikona Digital could end up unintentionally benefiting arch rival Reliance Jio.Reliance Jio was forced to pay around Rs 1,650 cr four ye...
Zee Entertainment slashes channel prices ahead of TRAI regulation Zee's new tariff card for HD channelsZee Entertainment, one of the four big broadcasting groups of India, has become the first player to bring its channel prices in line with an upcoming regulation issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.Zee's new tariff card...
Airtel Broadband to upgrade users to 40 Mbps V Fiber plans to beat Reliance Jio Locations of Airtel V Fiber servicesAirtel Broadband, India's second largest wired broadband service, will upgrade nearly all its DSL customers to its new 'V Fiber' vectorization technology that offers speeds of 40 Mbps, compared to 4-8 Mbps under the traditional ADSL 2 tech...
NET NEUTRALITY: Netflix says let India decide what it wants to watch Netflix, the world's biggest provider of video-on-demand services, rebuffed attempts by telecom companies to control viewership of online video and said consumers must be allowed to consume any legal content on the Internet without 'gate keeping' or interference by telecom provid...
Telcos trying to create ‘caste system’ on Internet – IFF on Net Neutrality Telecom companies are trying to divide Internet traffic into different 'castes' and treat each of them differently and want to extract money from people who create apps, websites and other content, said Internet Freedom Foundation.The IFF was responding to suggestions given t...
Why Reliance Jio will keep data prices low for 2 years: Credit Suisse explains Wireless data prices in India, which crashed from Rs 250 per GB to about Rs 10 per GB after the entry of Reliance Jio, will continue to remain under pressure for at least two more years, said analyst firm Credit Suisse.That is the minimum amount of time that the new entrant w...
Net Neutrality: Vodafone wants right to manipulate Internet videos Telcos want to be able to reduce video qualityVodafone India said it would like to be given the power to manage the size of videos watched by users on its mobile network and lower it automatically "for overall quality welfare".Participating in the discussions related to ...
Telcos Change Tack as Net Neutrality Fight Enters Final Round in India A campaign by Internet Freedom FoundationIf you thought the fight over net neutrality was over with the sending of 1 mln emails to the TRAI two years ago, think again.The telecom service providers, who lost out that in the first round, are back. This time, however, their...
Complaints against telcos drop sharply as 4G takes off No of complaints against telcos in last three years. 2017 nos are annualizedComplaints against all telecom providers except Bharti Airtel dropped in 2016, possibly in reaction to the emergence of new operator Reliance Jio and the explosion of 4G data capacity.The total n...
TRAI’s MySpeed app pulled from Google Play Store The TRAI MySpeed AppThe Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's network benchmarking app MySpeed is no longer listed on the Android Play Store.The link for the app throws an error saying 'the requested URL was not found on this server'.It is not clear whether TRAI pu...
India’s 3G networks creak under freebie overload; 4G also slows MySpeed, the speedtesting platform operated by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, has revealed a sharp dip in wireless data speeds across operators in March compared to the previous month.The declines were visible in both 4G as well as 3G services, but were more prono...
New TRAI rules to hit Zee Entertaiment, Star, Sony and Sun TV The regulator's new rules on the pricing of television channels in India, which will come into effect in six months, will reduce the clout of big broadcasting companies such as Zee Entertainment Enterprises, Sony, Star India and Sun TV, while encouraging smaller media owners....
Investors starting to understand Mukesh Ambani’s telecom game – Angel Broking Investors are only now starting to realize the plan that Mukesh Ambani and his telecom brainchild, Reliance Jio, have put into practice, and are therefore driving stock prices of his company higher, said Angel Broking, a retail-only stock-broker.Reliance Industries share pric...
BSNL doubles data on 11 existing 3G plans to take on Reliance Jio BSNL, the public-owned telecom services provider, has increased the data allowance of more of its 3G plans, days after announcing two new tariff plans.Last week, the company has increased the allocation on two of its popular recharges by double or more.The Rs 78 pack,...
Facebook to start showing ads in Groups Facebook, the biggest website in the world by amount of time spent, has started showing targeted advertising on 'Groups',  the social network's equivalent of forums.The ads will be based on the interests of the user,  Facebook  said in a communication to group administrat...
Quora imposes restrictions on anonymous users; to pre-screen anon content; stops likes, comments Quora, the question and answer app that is very popular in certain pockets of population in India and abroad, said has made three crucial changes to its anonymity policy: installing a mandatory screening process, preventing anonymous users from liking and commenting, and removing...
Reliance Jio carries 80% of traffic on next-gen Internet technology IPv6 roll-out on Jio. source:APNICReliance Jio, the new entrant to India's telecom landscape, is carrying nearly 80% of its traffic in the next-generation Internet technology, a senior official of the company said.Internet Protocol or IP is one of the languages used by machi...
BSNL offers email IDs in Hindi and other Indian languages BSNL has introduced a free e-mail service for its broadband users based on its डाटावन.भारत domain name.As a result, it is possible for a customer to now have an complete email address in Hindi.“It's now possible in every part of India to have an email address in their...
TRAI wants FREE DATA for everyone, without ‘gatekeeping’ by telcos India's telecom regulator has suggested that every rural citizen should be given 100 MB or so per month on a free basis to help the spread of digital revolution in the country. It has also suggested allowing 'third party aggregators' like Facebook to offer free data, but only if ...