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COAI’s Net Neutrality campaign gets 40 lakh supporters; But do they know what they’re supporting?

COAI sab ka internet

Telecom lobby group Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) has said it has received 40 lakh responses in favour of its version of net neutrality. The COAI has said that support for the campaign came from voice calls and SMSes made to a toll free number. “To ensure ease of understanding, the messages were conveyed in 12 local languages across India. This medium was intentionally selected so as to be able to reach out to and include the views of the millions of mobile customers who are yet to be connected to the internet,” the COAI statement read.

COAI has also said that the entire mobile number database of supporters is auditable on request by the appropriate agency.

Last week COAI had launched a campaign with a slogan “Sab ka Internet. Sab ka vikas” to promote affordable Internet, push Digital India initiatives and ensure that Internet communication apps such as WhatsApp, Viber, Skype and WeChat be brought under that same regulations as telecom companies. The telecom body said if operators are not offered a level playing field with net-based services, then their businesses would be viable only by raising data prices by up to six times.

Attempt to confuse?

However as Trak.in points out that the campaign in itself is vague an ambiguous in nature as most users would get a message like this:

Airtel-message

Once you have given a missed call on the given number you get a message showing 4 different points. This is what Vodafone has sent to one of their users.

VOdafone-COAI-message

The issue with this message is that it gives broad sweeping statements and offers no explanation of the ongoing Net Neutrality debate to the layman to make an informed opinion. It also means that a lot of people might have given a missed call merely out of curiosity and might not even have heard the entire message. To be fair, COAI has provided an opt out from its campaign and also mentions in its statement that 10% of the respondents decided to do so. Twitter raised similar questions:

COAI has always maintained that it supports net neutrality and has always welcomed debates on the same. More on that here and here . But it’s worth remembering that in its submission to the TRAI consultation paper on regulating internet services and net neutrality, COAI favours differential pricing for data access which violates neutrality principles. From its responses to the TRAI: 

Service Differentiation is a common business practice that is widely practiced across various industries. Take the examples of: a) Tatkal rail tickets, first class, sleeper class, unreserved – differentiated products different prices b) First class business class and economy class in airlines c) National expressway or highway vs a regular road d) Travel by bus, taxi or an auto e) Priority banking, personal banking f) Regular water, mineral water. We believe that even in the matter of OTT, TSPs should be allowed differential pricing for data access and OTT communication services as long as the TSP shall not discriminate between subscribers of the same class and such classification shall not be arbitrary.

TSPs should be given the freedom to negotiate commercial arrangements with OTT players. The operators should be allowed to engage with the OTT players to get into the bilateral arrangements providing adequate measures for consumer protection.

Going by the responses with TRAI, the Sab Ka Internet initiative seems like an attempt at misinformation by the lobby group despite the 40 lakh supporters they claim.

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