Net Neutrality and Where do We Stand in the Debate ?

Net Neutrality in IndiaIn the Global Telecom industry the most debated topic is Net Neutrality. Wikipedia defines net neutrality as the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

Telcos argument is wireless players should be allowed to (1) control the quality of service (QoS) of different data services (to ensure optimal experience for all users on the network) and/or (2) charge differentially for various data services to capture their fair share of the value being created by mobile data explosion. Quite understandably, the OTT players are on the other side of the fence on this debate. Airtel’s Evil Move move to charge for 3G /4G VoIP differentially from today is one example of violation of the net neutrality principle. At a strict level, some of the prevalent discounted/free packs in India (and other markets) for using specific social media sites like Facebook or WhatsApp also violate the net neutrality principle.

Is Airtel the First One to Charge Extra for VoIP Traffic ?
Blocking VoIP services in data packs (either for network management or for charging separately) is not an uncommon phenomenon in Europe. Vodafone, for example, introduced a clause excluding VoIP and P2P (peer-to-peer) services from data packs as early as April 2007. Also, a report by BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) in March 2012 found that blocking of VoIP and P2P traffic is common in Europe.

Where do We Stand on the Net Neutrality Debate ?
At a philosophical level, while we understand the telcos’ point of view, we do not think the way to overcome this challenge is to charge the customers differentially for different services. QoS control, within well-defined limits, can be a way out but may not be the most effective long-term solution, either. We believe the solution lies in some sort of a commercial engagement between the telcos and the OTT players – something like bringing the OTT players under the interconnect regime, for example. Large number of OTT players makes this practically challenging; however, we do believe the solution lies somewhere in that direction.

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