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MTS MBlaze, Tata Docomo And The Neutrality Of Wireless Internet Access In India


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(by Nikhil Pahwa and Diwaskar Chettri)

CDMA telecom operator MTS has announced the launch of its prepaid wireless internet service MBlaze in Jharkhand. While the base charge for access is Rs. 2 per mb, something else caught our attention: MTS will allow MBlaze users free Internet browsing of certain websites – Yahoo India, Wikipedia, Makemytrip, shopping.indiatimes.com and Cricinfo.com.

Additionally, according to MTS’ Free Policy: “email will be free for Indian yahoo email addresses e.g. myname@yahoo.in, and myname@yahoo.com email addresses.” and “Email attachment downloads will be free from the given free websites”

Indeed, this is becoming something of a trend: last month, Tata Docomo offered free GRPS for accessing Facebook, Twitter, Orkut, LinkedIn and Nimbuzz to its BuddyNet users.

This is excellent for promoting wireless Internet in India, but look at it from another perspective: As an access service provider, MTS and Tata Docomo are not being neutral towards the websites they’re providing access to. Preferential treatment is being provided to, say, Cricinfo over CricketNext or Cricbuzz, Facebook over a BigAdda, IndyaRocks and Bharatstudent, MakeMyTrip over Cleartrip and Yatra, Indiatimes Shopping over Indiaplaza, Rediff Shopping or Sify Shopping. Downloading attachments from Yahoo Mail is cheaper than from, say, Rediff Mail or GMail.

Even if not very significant, a consumer is being given an incentive to use one site over the other, by making access to one free, and the other paid.

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Questions need to be asked of the access service providers: why these specific websites, and why not others? Are there contractual agreements in place, and are MTS and Tata Docomo being compensated by them? We’ll update in case MTS responds.

From a pureplay net-neutrality perspective, MTS and Docomo are probably not at fault unless they’re providing access at differing speeds. Google’s YouTube came under the scanner recently when Airtel upgraded access speed to YouTube’s IPL sreaming to 2mbps speed for all subscribers.

Related:

MTS Ties-Up With Utiba For eTop-Up And M-Commerce Platforms
MTS Now Awaits Home Ministry Approval For 20% Stake Sale

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  • Ashwan

    I disagree with your last paragraph. From the Wikipedia article you link to: "At its simplest network neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally"

    If you're charging for some traffic and not for the other, despite already paying for the basic Internet service, net neutrality is being violated.

    Also, from the Free Policy page, it appears the free usage of Indiatimes Shopping and Cricinfo was valid only until 28th Feb 2010.

  • Ashwan: about your second point…they probably haven't updated their free policy page. This page states access is free till 30th April 2010: http://www.mtsindia.in/Maharashtra/netonthego.htm

    Also, we received an announcement today from MTS about the Jharkhand launch for MBlaze, stating: "All MBlaze tariff plans allow free internet browsing of websites like Yahoo, Wikipedia, Makemytrip, http:/shopping.indiatimes.com, cricinfo.com ensuring a user friendly experience allowing subscribers to stay abreast with the latest in news, sports and fashion."

  • "If you're charging for some traffic and not for the other, despite already paying for the basic Internet service, net neutrality is being violated. "

    False assertion IMHO . neutrality is defined by access . if service provider (ISP / Telco) doesen't allow you to visit a specific website on the ground that its not partner site than its a violation . this was essence of closed garden approach . however here they are providing data charge wavier to partner sites , thats just a promotion /user acquisition tactics . nothing new or earth shattering here. I doubt if FB user will stop visiting FB if these telco start charging for it . As a user I won't spend time on a website if content doesn't appeal me . making it free it will not change anything .

  • I remember seeing a hoarding in Bangalore (Residency road-Brigade Road junction) on the same a while back. Impressive stuff, but I have till now only seen one person using MTS! =D

  • "If you're charging for some traffic and not for the other, despite already paying for the basic Internet service, net neutrality is being violated. "

    False assertion IMHO . neutrality is defined by access . if service provider (ISP / Telco) doesen't allow you to visit a specific website on the ground that its not partner site than its a violation . this was essence of closed garden approach . however here they are providing data charge wavier to partner sites , thats just a promotion /user acquisition tactics . nothing new or earth shattering here. I doubt if FB user will stop visiting FB if these telco start charging for it . As a user I won't spend time on a website if content doesn't appeal me . making it free it will not change anything .

    • I'd agree with Prashant. This seems more promotion than stifling access. In fact, I'd reckon we are going to see more of this in the days to come. Mobile data plans priced at a premium for, say, access to YouTube, or data plans focussed at social network fans with free access to FB, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc…

  • There are numerous interpretations of the 'Net Neutrality', but one which seems to be most common accepted is the preferential treatment to traffic streams (as in choking/ramping bandwidth-to, or providing better QoS to) certain type of services. At the end of the day, 'Net Neutrality' is a mere debate at the moment, and not a law. One can choose to classify/name certain policies as anti- Net-Neutrality, but then so-be-it. If I have a commercial arrangement with someone, that they subsidise me a part of the cost I incur in providing free service to their customers, which in turn gets me more paying customers, this is a win-win. People who want to visit Yahoo, get to do it for free, so they win. Yahoo gets more willing customers visiting their website, more often, and increase their ad-revenues, so they win. MTS gets to attract not only Yahoo-philes (and others) with the lure of the free service, and part of cost incurred is repatriated, so they win too. So who loses. The Yahoo competitors who have not entered into such arrangement with MTS. If MTS has an exclusivity principle, i.e. they would not enter into such arrangement with Yahoo competitors, then the Net-neutrality debate becomes meaningful, but until then, it's just a popular phrase.