ISPs want the Indian government to license apps like Whatsapp, Line, WeChat and Viber, which essentially offer users an Internet based alternative to phone calling and messaging. Parroting the “Same services, same rules” view of telecom operators, the Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI) in its submission (pdf) to telecom regulator TRAI says that these apps need to be licensed because their services can substitute licensed telecom operator services. In case you’re wondering why an ISP association is pushing a telecom industry agenda, it’s because the top ISPs in India are BSNL, Airtel and MTNL, which are also telecom operators who have asked for the same.
If this goes through, it probably means that ISPs will also be allowed to block access to Whatsapp, Line, WeChat and Viber, apart from other communications apps, unless they buy a license.
The ISPAI does not mention regulation of other Internet companies. Note, most “other” Internet companies have in-built chat interfaces and methods of directly reaching out to their consumers. By this, it would still be considered a communication and messaging application. Its comments fail to address the nuances of the situation.
The ISPAI also wants the governemnt, the ministry of home affairs and designated security agencies to decide on security concerns while regulating internet communication services. It says that there are regulatory imbalances as ISPs are subject to stringent regulation while internet services get a free hand, arguing that Internet companies don’t pay license fees, maintain quality of service, universal service obligations, security clearances or legal intercept requirements while offering similar services as ISPs. “Further, OTTs are not obliged for consumer safety, security & privacy, neither are they responsible for KYC validation & records,” the association wrote.
Net neutrality definition: ISPAI in its response says that it supports Net Neutrality. To quote: “Net Neutrality means all intemet trafﬁc must be treated equally. Thus a TSP/ISP must ensure that consumer has choice to access any App or website without any differential treatment. There should not be any blocking, throttling or paid preferential treatment of retail Broadband trafﬁc by the ISPs.”
Zero rating, differential pricing of communications and other apps: The ISPAI wants the government to decide on a level playing field between licensed players and non-licensed players, but makes no specific comment on Zero Rating.