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Indian telecom operators want government help in killing net neutrality

If you think Net Neutrality isn’t going to be an issue in India, think again. Telecom Operators in India are gearing up to push for a regulation to get websites to pay to allow consumers to access them. The telecom industry’s lobbying arm, the Cellular Operators Association of India, has listed “revenue sharing agreements” with telecom operators one of the five items on their wishlist for the new government.

COAI Director General Rajan Mathews is quoted in The Hindu as saying that telecom operators feel they need “a revenue sharing arrangement between the over-the-top service providers and telecom service providers. COAI Members believe there is a crucial need to initiate dialogue and work with the Government of India on this issue”.

Over-the-top is what telecom operators disparagingly call the Internet, and such a move will turn internet connections in to cable connections. Users do not want this. Watch this great video below, where John Oliver explains the Net Neutrality issue in the US. Remember that this issue will hit India sooner than you expect: the TRAI is believed to be working on an FCC like consultation.

In India, Airtel’s been at the forefront of this battle against an equal web, but it has so far been trying to give a positive spin to it: last year, Airtel’s then CEO International and Joint MD Manoj Kohli said “I believe we (telecom operators) can lift the level of usage of all these services, and customers propensity to use more and more, rather than continue this unnecessary tension.”

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Airtel, on broadband, has limited speed of access and data consumption through their “Fair Usage Policy”, but in case you subscribe to BigFlix powered Airtel Movies, a user has access to unlimited movies. Similarly, Vodafone offers a music streaming service which offers unlimited music downloads, once subscribed.

The company has announced that it plans to shift to content based Data Plans, from offering just access data plans, and this a part of a larger game of creating walled gardens around the Internet and carving out bandwidth for “data VAS” and “optimized OTT services”, for which Internet companies would be charged. Airtel appears to have inspired Uninor to think the same way: Read how Uninor is trying to create Data VAS.

In fact, in India, many Internet companies have been feeding the beast that will turn around and attack them: Whatsapp, Google, Facebook, Twitter and even Wikipedia, trying to push for acquiring mobile usage of their services, have been tying up with telecom operators, where, sometimes, users get unlimited bandwidth for that service. Some of these deals are mere barter arrangements, but that’s the first step towards potential monetization for telcos.

While you might think that the option of such business arrangements that should be available to telcos and Internet companies, to put this into context: what about those services that don’t do these partnerships with telecom operators? They will be forced to, and the data VAS departments in telcos will start discriminating, like they did with MVAS. Can a startup get such a deal without MVAS-style bribing? An important recent development is the instance in Chile. GigaOm reports:

The Chilean telecommunications regulator Subtel has banned mobile operators from offering so-called zero-rated social media apps – services like Twitter and Facebook that, through deals with the carriers, can be used without having to pay for mobile data. Subtel says such practices are illegal under Chilean net neutrality law.

When the Indian government (or the regulator) begins a discussion on Net Neutrality, do make sure that you participate.

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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