Net Neutrality: Open And Innovative Internet For All By Dr Manimohan, director, GSMA

Net-Neutrality:-Open-And-Innovative-Internet-For-All-By-Dr-Manimohan,-director,-GSMANo need for regulations that restrict operators to manage traffic and offer variable tariffs for Internet

The Internet has been an open engine for innovation, inclusion, expression and development and it should remain so. Managing network traffic and offering different tariffs are important contributors for open Internet.

Mobile operators want Indian consumers to make greater use of mobile networks by accessing a variety of services. Internet players want to reach more connected consumers whereas the government wants to advance Digital India agenda. The end goal is the same – to encourage investment and innovation in broadband networks and consumer choice in Internet services.

This should be the primary objective of the net neutrality debate in India. Some commentators are concerned that this goal cannot be achieved without regulation. They demand specific regulations on operators claiming that, without equal treatment of all Internet traffic, operators will favor one type of provider over another. But, is there a case for such regulation in the absence of proven harm and in the presence of existing legal safeguards? We should avoid unintended consequences of additional regulation despite the well-intentioned objectives of those calling for it.

Traffic Management
Let us start with a simple but important fact – traffic management is an essential aspect of operating a mobile network. It is essential for managing congestion. It is essential for protecting consumers from inappropriate or harmful content. It is essential for maintaining the security of the network and ensuring access to emergency services. It is essential for optimizing the delivering of different types of content. It is essential for the creation of different commercial offers with different combinations of speed and data usage allowances.

Without traffic management, the consumer experience of mobile Internet would be significantly degraded.

The need for traffic management is greater now with networks carrying not just voice calls and text messages but a myriad of different applications – e-mail, news, video, music, map, game, etc. Without traffic management, mobile operators will not be able to manage the increasing complexity and growing volumes of traffic. According to a Cisco report, India will have the fastest IP traffic growth globally with a 39 percent CAGR from 2013 to 2018.

I hope the policymakers in India recognize the importance of traffic management and the greater need for them as networks become more complex.

Operators’ Flexibility
According to GSMA Intelligence, broadband penetration in India is around 20 percent of the population, significantly lower than many other countries. All of us should work towards widening broadband access in India. Will one-size fits all decree on how operators manage their network and charge for services encourage internet adoption and broadband investment?

There is no basis to suggest that offering consumers the choice of tariffs that combine different price, quality and content is damaging. In fact the contrary is true. Consumers benefit from being able to choose what type of service they prefer at a price they are willing to pay. Protecting operators’ flexibility to differentiate also encourages innovation of new services and commercial propositions.

Operators should have the freedom to enter into partnership agreements with content and application providers. Regulation should not prohibit commercial offers such as zero-priced consumer access for certain services, which ultimately benefit consumers by encouraging them to use the internet and to try new services without unduly worrying about data consumption costs. Zero rating also provides opportunities for new content and application providers to make use of the marketing, distribution and billing platform of operators and compete with established providers in the broader Internet ecosystem.

No Additional Regulation
I am not advocating that there should be no rules. Regulators should act when there are proven cases of anti-competitive misconduct, but should not seek further regulatory intervention without a strong reason. As noted by the TRAI, the primary question is the ability of public authorities to encourage competition and to address anti-competitive behavior.

Operators are already subject to a number of regulatory obligations that protect Indian consumers and facilitate competition, with safeguards in place under the existing legal and regulatory framework. Indian consumers and businesses have benefited from a vibrant and competitive mobile industry. The mobile and Internet success story show that markets will deliver the Open Internet. This growth was not the result of specific regulations.

The Internet ecosystem is still evolving. At this stage, the best way to deal with the net neutrality debate in India is to let the market find balanced solutions through competition to meet consumer needs. Policy makers should not rush into rule making, but focus their efforts on a consultative principles-based approach that is flexible enough for this dynamic and complex environment. Effective competition, rather than regulation, is the best way to ensure that the Internet remains open, innovative and for all.

Dr Manimohan is director, Public Policy at the GSM Association (GSMA). The views expressed in the article are not necessarily the views of the members of the GSMA.

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