Our notes from the TRAI seminar on the regulatory environment around OTT’s, essentially, regulation of Internet services in India, on Mobile. For context, read this and this. Please pardon the typos. Some parts of the talk have been paraphrased, and some points missed.

Venky Nishtala, CTO, Rediff.com:

“There is no Internet in the country. Only ISPs. The original ISP was AOL, and it had to change with times. In 2000, we had networks that were charging content providers, and when I was running mail services, I had to pay both ways. Internet businesses in India, today, are not viable. The bandwidth costs are the highest in the world. You only speak about how to protect Telcos from intenrational content. Mr TV Ramachandran (from Vodafone) talked about Google’s deal with France Telecom. A Facebook will not come out of India. Telcos have to learn how to handle that. We have weak infra, and there is no QoS on delivery of data on mobile Internet or SMS. Bank payment confirmations are delivered the next day. Landlines are going away, and wireless is the future. Public infrastructure and right of way is grossly underutilized and wireless infra is over-stressed. We have PSU’s in every locality, with Right of Way. One of the reasons why broadband Internet wasn’t taken up by telcos was because of the cost. The cost of laying a Km of fibre in Bombay or Delhi is Rs 45-80 lakhs. Our broadband plan is limited to gram panchayats. They don’t dare to touch urban areas.

Net neutrality is a must. Netflix is not characterized as Internet content. Internet is a variety of content. Whatsapp calling features have not landed yet. You can regulate Whatsapp, another app will come up. Snapchat was launched in 2 languages: English and Hindi. People like to remain anonymous. Internet has offered them a freedom of speech, and exposed people like never before. These apps will emerge, and it’s hard to have an agreement with each app. If you don’t offer the exploration of the Internet, then it’s not an Internet, it’s a directory service. The other reason why costs come up, and why neutrality is a must, is that I should be able to connect. As a content provider, I should be able to connect to one point on the Internet. Not only does the customer have one access, the content provider must have one access to reach all customers. One to many, on both sides.

The moment you start having private arrangements, most large enterprises will want to have exclusive arrangements. I will have to be exclusive to one. No Indian geography is covered by a single carrier in India. Rediff.com peers individually with each network, because of the dis-functional NIXI in India. You’re trying to regulate content beyond your control. Will society in general accept that? Would the recent changes have happened if it wasn’t for the openness of the Internet. Net neutrality is a must if you want internet.

Most telecom wars are about maximizing spectrum costs, lower tariffs, and maximizing revenues. This approach is strangulation. This policy is at odds with the PM’s optical fibre vision. How will the government get money? You and me are never going to see the Internet through the optical fibre that goes to gram panchayats.

Unless we look at the hard reality, we’re not going to get anywhere. We have to follow up on execution. 50% of you would have changed your DNS to 8.8.8.8 (Google DNS), because none of them (operator DNS) work well. Most of you access the Internet in your offices. Your mobile Internet isn’t working, and you’re suffering. You (telecom operators) overstretched yourself, because of 1 paise per second. You ambushed each other, and now you’re trying to get someone else to save you. – Venky Nishtala, Rediff

Suggestions:
– Service providers would need QoS.
– Broadband bandwidth has to be at least 2 Mbps for performance – have to be available and consistent. (Rediff Chairman) Ajit Balakrishnan did a traceroute while in Delhi, and it took him 25 hops to reach a server in Delhi. The mobile network went outside the country in 15 hops, and then another 10 hops. It took him 20 seconds to download the homepage. Over 30% in debit card transactions drop because connections dont work. IF you’re using a broadband connection in Bangalore, it goes to the the Mastercard server in Australia. That’s because they’ve not located servers in India. If you try Internet banking: the banks are hosted in private data centers very weakly peered. There is no internet exchange.

Our problem is quite unique. You bet completely on wireless. OTT means the Internet. Lets do what the rest of the world has done. Vula (virtual unbundled local access) of PSU infrastructure for enhancement. The time for virtual local unbundled access is here. We’re letting public infrastructure stay in the hands of a very inefficient public sector operator.