Net Neutrality Report : Why DoT Deserves A Big Thumbs Up

The net neutrality report of DoT has taken the view of all the stakeholders, and tried to uphold the need and benefits of all of them. It neither favoured the telcos nor was it against the OTTs. It has understood the need of broadband and the same time acknowledged the plight of the telcos, and also tells the consumers that not everything can be offered free. There is no free lunch.

dot-net-neutrality-reportThe Department of Telecommunication or DoT on Thursday came out with a recommendatory report on net neutrality, the underlying tussle between telecom operators and OTTs, and what should be the way forward. If one goes by the merits of the debate and the controversies surrounding the issue of retaining the spirit of net neutrality in the country, the DoT report could not have been any better and deserves a big round of applause.

The DoT, for each and every point of the consultation, has taken the opinion of both the parties – the telcos and OTTs, civil society, and that of the MAG (multistakeholder advisory group). The report was a outcome of the discussions held among them.

However, there are media reports which appear to very negative or tried to highlight the points, that appear to be negatively impacting the consumers. But one needs to logically justify before being judgmental.

Net Neutrality & No Free Calls

There are arguments, which spurt after the report became public, that OTT local voice calls on WhatsApp, Viber and Skype etc would no longer be free. And the report of DoT says so. There is nothing wrong in it. The arguments of the pure telcos that the OTT players are eating away their revenue pie is something that the government needed to look at. Indian telcos, put together, so far have invested Rs 7.5 lakh crore and the industry needs investment of around Rs 5 lakh crore in next five years. However, the OTTs like WhatsApp have no investment on the Indian telecom networks but they rely solely on the same network for their bread and butter. Calculations tell, if OTTs take just 1% of the pure telcos’ voice revenue, the telecom operators loose around Rs 1200 crore a year. And that’s huge. Besides, there is a price arbitrage of around 13% in voice calls and 16% in messaging, if one moves from TSPs to OTTs.

Again, to run these OTT services like voice calls and messaging, which are dependent on the data network, the networks have to be robust and needs upgradation in regular intervals as and when the customer base grows. It, then, needs more investment and who is going to do this? The telcos! That’s not a fair game.

Customers may not be very happy with the report as they need to cough up some money to make calls on OTT platform but, one needs to understand, there is no free lunch. The OTTs like WhatsApp or Skype could have never offered the services free of cost had they invested the kind of investment the telcos have done for the telecom networks in any country.

Net Neutrality & Zero Rating

The DoT has taken a very measured and middle path in defining the ‘zero-rating’ platforms, which was perhaps the best way forward. One should not generalise zero rated platforms as against the spirit of net neutrality. It should be calibrated and checked properly by the regulator. And that is what the DoT report suggests that the sector regulator should check before approving any such plan being commercial.

Regulation – To maintain a level playing field among the service providers that provide similar services, there should be a uniform regulation. However, this was not the case till now when regulating voice calls of telcos and OTTs are concerned. The government’s move to bring the OTTs under regulation is a positive move for the industry. When national security is concerned, there was no way the Indian operators or the government has any control over these OTTs as there has been no regulation on how to and where to control or check it.

“National security is paramount, regardless of treatment of Net Neutrality. The measures to ensure compliance of security related requirements from OTT service providers, need to be worked out through inter-ministerial consultations,” says the DoT report, which should be taken in right spirit.

Net Neutrality – The government has vehemently defended the idea of net neutrality and made it very clear that the department wants no compromise in maintaining the core principles of the internet being rested neutral. However, it also said that the objective of formulating guidelines of net neutrality should be in the direction of affordable broadband, quality broadband and universal broadband.

The report is not yet final, it has sought recommendation and suggestion which can be delivered at MyGov application.



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