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TRAI Needs To Take Note Of Airtel’s Anti-Net-Neutrality Statements

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Hang net-neutrality, it seems. Bharti Airtel has once again raised the issue of being paid by Internet companies like Google and Yahoo for allowing consumers to access these sites: Jagbir Singh, Director (Network Services Group) at Bharti Airtel has said in an interview with the Hindu Business Line, that it should be getting “interconnection charges” for data services, adding that content and services companies like Google and Yahoo are making money at the cost of telcos, which had actually invested money in setting up data pipes. He appears to be unhappy at content companies being valued at much more than telcos, and felt that setting up networks was more capital intensive as they pay for spectrum while voice revenues were on a decline. The report mentions that 40% of the total data traffic for Airtel was from service like Facebook, Twitter and Google.

This is similar to what Airtel’s MD Sunil Bharti Mittal had said at the Mobile World Congress, stating that “The fact is that nobody really sees it from the other way – that YouTube is consuming massive amounts of bandwidth on the network. And somebody has got to pay for that. If Google, Facebook and others are not going to pay for it, it will be transferred entirely onto customers,” he had said at the MWC.

This comes at a time when VAS revenues are declining, an independent ecosystem around data is developing: as Vodafone India’s Head of Data and Internet Services, Jonathan Bill mentioned at MediaNama’s Monetization of Mobile Apps panel (on Saturday), the share of off-deck services (versus on-deck data services) for Vodafone India is now as high as 80%.


What Airtel Is Forgetting

– Customers are paying them for access to these sites: As an Airtel customer, I am paying the company to access the Mobile Internet without speed restrictions (never mind the fact that I’m also paying for low speeds and poor network reliability) and without preferential treatment being meted out to whoever pays them to allow users to access sites.

– Increasing data usage is in their interest: The more people access sites like YouTube, the more users get billed if they aren’t on some of the low cost data plans. What will they do? Block YouTube or slow it down if blackmailing Google doesn’t help?

– Large data plans at low cost are their own creation: It’s Airtel’s problem that they came up with cheap Internet plans (I’m paying Rs 98 per month for 2GB on 2G), haven’t got ubiquitous 3G connectivity in place. Can I afford to pay more? Sure I can. What Airtel is proposing, is something that is akin to having its cake and eat it too.

– They need these sites to get more data users: While Singh and Mittal might be peeved that YouTube is consuming massive bandwidth, they need Google, Facebook, YouTube and Yahoo to drive Internet adoption. Remember that telecom operators partnered with Facebook for Facebook Zero, and used that tie-up for marketing online Internet access to consumers. Sounds like a sleeping with the enemy scenario. Airtel (Broadband) also partnered with YouTube during the IPL, to offer their own broadband customers higher speeds of access during the IPL.


– What does Nikesh Arora think about this? He’s President for Sales for Google, and on Airtel’s board of directors.
– Will (Bharti) Airtel also consider charging Hike, an application from Bharti-Softbank, or to BSB’s JV with Yahoo Japan, to allow consumers to use it?

The TRAI Needs To Keep Watch

While Airtel hasn’t implemented any anti-net-neutrality measures (apart from the YouTube tie-up for IPL), repeated statements by two top executives (Mittal and Singh) are a cause for concern.

The TRAI needs to keep a watch on Airtel’s anti-net-neutrality statements: both in terms of wanting to provide preferential access to services for payment and also in terms of metering consumer access speeds, offering higher speeds (or zero cost of access) to their partners, at the cost of other service providers. The network needs to offer a level playing field to all service providers, to encourage an open and competitive Internet ecosystem, and the regulator needs to ensure that remains the case.

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  • Anonymous

    I fail to understand the entire argument of “bandwidth hog by specific services”. After all the consumer is being rationed bandwidth(all unlimited plans come with cap!) and its consumer’s right to use that quantified bandwidth on any service. What next? Airtel will ask customer to pay more to calling frequently dialed number as those numbers might be > 50% of total minutes)

    • noGod

      LOL. You never know ! :))

  • Airtel is the worst. They advertise plans with higher bandwidth on their websites and then tell customers that the bandwidth isn’t really technically feasible. I have asked for an upgrade to 4 mbps and this is exactly what i was told, never mind that they have allowed the same bandwidth earlier. Secondly, for each plan they offer some free calls. Why can’t they adjust these calls against a discount, higher bandwidth or higher data usage? Talking to them has no effect. Customer service is of little help.

    • I faced similar issue. I was using 4Mbps/75 GB but when I asked for 4Mbps/150 GB their customer care says its not feasible but later when I asked for disconnection they were willing to offer the same speed again but I discontinued their service. Over the year Indian Telecom players have lost its customer care as they no longer have respect or strategy for customer retention.

  • Airtel’s self righteous attitude stems from a lack of real competition. At the moment it happens to be the largest fish in a rather massive pond. Their short shortsightedness borders on delusion. Nicely written Nikhil.

  • Junaid

    Very good points. I thank Medianama for stirring up a good fight.

  • Raj

    Fact is 98% of data traffic is off deck (going to google etc) and these guys are not able to make money on their Airtel Live kind of dumb sites. Hence this khujli

  • raj

    In the same breadth, Airtel should also pay to Google and Yahoo for they are the reasons why anyone is using Airtels internet facility. Director is such a goof.

  • Go home, Mr. Singh!!! U drunk!!

  • HaHa!!! I love the Title. Expecting from the Lethargic Office of TRAI full of Sycophant :-)

  • Prakash Paranjpe

    I dont see why the airtel stand is so problematic. When you drive down an expressway dont you pay toll? Or should highway authority continue to build roads for free? blogs like medianama thrives on google search engine and therfore one cannot expect a neutral article.
    In fact having an interconnection regime for data will help vas players to get a systematic revenue share instead of depending on operators whims.

    • So is Airtel not sending you monthly broadband bill ?

      • prakash paranjpe

        the point im making is that why should i pay. Google or other website should share the burden and pay telcos a revenue share, which will enable them to lower my data tariff. Someone has to pay so why not the websites. Or are u saying that u r willing to pay and make google etc more richer by allowing them a free ride. I dont understand why everyone is supporting the free loaders even of that means you all pay for it. Incredible!

        • Sourav

          By the same logic, if I take the Noida-Agra expressway to see the Taj Mahal, the Taj Mahal authorities should share the Toll I have paid because the expressway is benefiting them by making it easier for tourist to visit Taj Mahal :)

        • LOL

        • Alok

          looks u r looking for a free Internet connection. lol. Jokes apart, the point here is that if you think Google or Facebook should pay instead of us paying to ISPs then it is a fight consumers have to take up. If they at all wish to. The ISP is already charging you for the amount of data you are using. Where have Mittals left their brains. If I have bought a plan for 75GB and paying for it, then why do they have a problem if I consume all of it. Do they want us to pay bills and keep our modems turned off. This is crap. And further to this, it’s not Google or Facebook which is sucking their bandwidth, it is P2P which is responsible for massive amount of data flow in very short span of time. Too bad, they can’t detect it as P2P traffic is highly encrypted most of the times.

    • noGod

      sick, you have taken neutrality issue to paid or free. Operator charges you to access internet. Now they should not decide which sites will you browse or not. They should give “equa access” to every host on internet.
      Logic of vas player is again out of context. VAS players can create services and can have better value (price + Free usage etc combinations) but you will stop giving access to internet’s other services because you also have a vas service is lame logic.

      • prakash paranjpe

        so is airtel saying that it wont give access to google or any other websites? Sure they are giving equal access but the websites which is also using the expressway to make money should pay the builder of the express way. It like a shop set up on the side of an expressway, which is making roaring business because of the expressway. Shouldnt the shop owner be paying a rent?

        • noGod

          >Sure they are giving equal access.
          Airtel doesn’t confirm this.
          >but the websites which is also using the expressway to make money should pay the builder of the express way.

          If I host in Airtel’s data center, I will (hopefully) get better speed to my servers from airtel users.
          Anything ahead of that is not neutral.

    • Your analogy is incorrect. Let me try and suggest a better one: We as the users (drivers) are all paying Airtel (who has laid the fairly potholed expressway) a toll. However, the road layer is now crying foul that SUVs are making large profits and also they take up too much space on the highway so the manufacturers should also fork out extra!

      • prakash paranjpe

        Your analogy is incorrect too bcos the SUV in your example is not making any money because of the expressway. In the case of websites like Google its like a shop on the expressway , which is making a roaring business because of the expressway. Shouldnt that shop pay a rent to the builder of the express way?

        • Prakash, you are proving my point. It WOULD be idiotic for instance for DSC which operates the Delhi-Jaipur expressway to demand a cut from say McDonalds at Manesar just along the e-way and thus they DON’T do such a thing. Tomorrow the argument will extend to DSC asking all builders who have got land close to the e-way to pay them a municipal tax for making their colonies better connected. Next, you will have differential tolls depending on which exit is being used most by cars and clogging the expressway. If neutrality of the e-way was the original principle on which the NHAI granted the e-way tender, the company can’t later whine about some folks benefiting disproportionately.

  • Here they asking for interconnect data usage sounds too foolish. Because if they demand interconnect tomorrow a consumer should also be paid as the device on which internet is served is the laptop/computer/mobile not owned by Airtel but The customer

  • Is Airtel currently losing money on the Data traffic? (i.e. is the number of Data subscription payments covering the bandwidth adequately?)

    From the YouTube data comment, it seems they subsidized rates enough to actually lose money on each MB transferred, and they want the traffic-drivers to come and help with the costs.

  • “”YouTube is consuming massive amounts of bandwidth on the network. And somebody has got to pay for that””

    Last time I checked Airtel didn’t provide me internet connection for free. Last time I checked YouTube didn’t have internet connection from their ISPs for free.

    We pay for what we want. ISPs say we are overusing it. Wrong. We are under-utilizing for what we pay. If I am getting 2Mbps for 1600 per month, then I can download non-stop for 2Mbps for a month. It is not my fault that other people don’t use their 2Mbps once in a while

  • Anonymous

    A naive question: Is net-neutrality a legal requirement by TRAI/GoI or is it an utopian wish by we users?

  • Apipeisapipe

    If a tele marketing company were using Airtel phone lines, and it became super successful and started making lots of money, jealous Airtel would want a share of the profits. Yeah.

  • Saurabh Datta

    Airtel Is Metering Speed For Youtube. I have a 4Mbps, 75GB Bandwidth line for which I pay 2500P.M., the speed I get at youtube is 30-40KB/sec instead of 300-500KB/sec.

    Need proof, details, proper analysis? contact me at +91-9988885330

  • TRAI is a useless body when it comes to protecting customers.