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Google joins Indian telecom operator association COAI


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Kirthiga Reddy (MD, Facebook India) and Rajan Anandan (MD, Google India)

Google India has joined the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a telecom industry body currently lobbying strongly against Net Neutrality. Google has confirmed to MediaNama that it has joined COAI, but it’s Country Head for Policy, Chetan Krishnaswamy, was not been available for an interview. Google has also not responded to queries mailed last week regarding its reasons for joining COAI, and its stand on Net Neutrality.

The context of our questions

Question 1. Why has Google joined COAI? At a global level, Google isn’t a member of the GSMA, so why has it joined a telecom industry association in India? This is in context of Facebook being a member of both GSMA and COAI.
Question 2. What benefits does Google get by joining an industry association where its core membership is only available to telecom licensees?

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Both Facebook and Google are now members of the COAI. In August 2014, Ankhi Das, Head of  Public Policy for Facebook India, had spoken with MediaNama about the company’s reasons for joining the COAI, but took a stand against violation of Net Neutrality. Since then, Facebook has announced Internet.org for India, which, with Zero Rating, would violate Net Neutrality. Facebook has also declined to comment on our questions regarding whether it knew of COAI’s letter against Whatsapp (a company that Facebook owns) to the telecom regulator TRAI.

Google-COAIAlso, note that Facebook is also a member of the GSM Association, and this somewhat explains their decision to join COAI. However, Google has chosen not to join the GSMA, but has now joined the COAI.

Question 3. As a member of the COAI, what are Google’s views on the COAI’s lobbying efforts for establishing a regulatory arrangement via the TRAI for interconnection charges / revenue share arrangement between telecom operators and Internet companies like Google? Do you support such an arrangement. Why or why not?

Question 4. In 2010, Google had tied up with Airtel, for offering higher speeds for access to YouTube for the Indian Premier League. All users accessing YouTube for the IPL were upgraded to a 2 mbps connection. Does Google support increasing or reducing bandwidth speeds for users for specific sites?

Also, Google has previously tied up with telecom operators like Airtel for providing free data for app downloads along with the purchase of Android One phones. This reduction in price for Apps is, in principle, similar to Airtel increasing prices for VoIP, which the TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar indicated is a violation of Net Neutrality. At the same time, App developers would benefit from data bundling. Three related questions:

5. What are Google’s views on Net Neutrality in India, and does it support or oppose Airtel’s now-retracted plan to charge separately for VoIP in India?
6. Does Google intend to continue tying up with telecom operators for free data for Google services?
7. Does Google have any plans (whether in India or globally) to offer application developers the ability to bundle data purchased from telecom operators free with their app?

Telecom operators CEO’s and the COAI have lobbied hard over the last year (or more), to force the TRAI to first host a seminar to explore possible revenue share arrangements between telecom operators and Internet companies. The midst of all of this, Google, Facebook and (Facebook owned) Whatsapp have worked with telecom operators to make their own services available free, or for data bundling. As we had explained earlier, these kind of arrangements essentially allow the bigger companies, which can afford such relationships between telecom operators, to make their services cheaper than competition, and forces startups to seek similar arrangements with telecom operators. Quite simply, if MakeMyTrip has such an arrangement with Airtel, would a Cleartrip be able to compete purely on product? If Times of India were available for free, would, say, Mint be able to compete? If YouTube is faster at 2mbps, would Ogle (which, allegedly, was throttled by Airtel), be able to compete?

Three rules of Net Neutrality

Rule 1: All sites must be equally accessible: ISPs and telecom operators shouldn’t block certain sites or apps just because they don’t pay them. No gateways should be created, in order to give preferential discovery to one site over another.
Rule 2: All sites must be accessible at the same speed (at an ISP/telco level): This means no speeding up of certain sites because of business deals. More importantly, it means no slowing down (throttling) of some sites.
Rule 3: The cost of access must be the same for all sites (per Kb/Mb or as per data plan): This means no “Zero Rating”. In countries like India, Net Neutrality is more about cost of access than speed of access: all lanes are slow.

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