Telecom companies including Idea Cellular and Vodafone have tactically skipped answering TRAI’s questions on how the regulator could keep a check on neutrality violations committed by telcos, and instead asked the Government to finalise a net neutrality framework before getting into regulation. Idea and Vodafone were responding to TRAI’s public consultation on Net Neutrality which looks at issues like blocking, throttling of speeds, traffic management, among others.
In the paper, TRAI mentioned that ISPs and telcos could disclose details about tariff packs, traffic management techniques employed on their networks, and other information to subscribers, general public which could help bring in transparency. Vodafone, however, suggested that current disclosures prescribed by TRAI “are sufficient” and that “any further requirements on transparency can be discussed /examined only when there is a definitive Government view on Net Neutrality.”
Idea, which is merging with Vodafone, has also reiterated Vodafone’ stance that current TRAI guidelines for information disclosure cover transparency, and that a transparency law for net neutrality cannot be framed until all stakeholders including users reach a “common understanding” of net neutrality. “Any transparency principles laid down in the context of Net Neutrality should be made applicable to all…stakeholders of the internet eco-system as well and not to TSPs (telcos) alone.”
Idea and Vodafone asks TRAI regulate apps under Net Neutrality
Both Idea and Vodafone have also requested TRAI to bring the apps (called Over-The-Top or OTT in telco-speak) or Internet apps ‘riding on the Internet’ to be brought under the purview of the current net neutrality consultation.
Idea criticised TRAI for not including the role of OTT apps in the ongoing consultation. “The TRAI is aware that the services that are offered by the OTT communication players such as messaging/instant messaging and VoIP telephony are perfect substitutes of the services that are being offered by the TSPs…which is impacting the revenues of TSPs and also their incentive and ability to invest,” Idea said.
It is important to note that TRAI had done a consultation on bringing OTT apps under a regulatory framework back in 2015, and this set a precedent the for net neutrality debate in India. However, Vodafone points out that the TRAI hasn’t come out with recommendations on the issue yet and asks it to bring OTT apps under the current consultation. “Although the TRAI has taken the view that the issue of OTT is not central to the present exercise, we humbly beg to differ with this view,” Vodafone said.
A lowdown on some of the comments by Vodafone and Idea:
On Differential pricing
Idea and Vodafone have made it clear in their responses that they want TRAI to either quash or re-examine the differential pricing regulation that was passed in February last year. The ruling banned telcos from entering into partnerships with content providers and offering it at a differentiated price. Here is what the telcos have said in their responses to support their stance:
– ‘Differential pricing ban is premature’: Vodafone says that it is opposing last year’s regulation because according to it the order was “premature”. “The principles of Net Neutrality are yet to be defined by the Government and hence, the (February) regulation of TRAI, may, in this view, be considered pre-mature,” Vodafone said.
– ‘Differential pricing provides choice to consumers’: Vodafone also added that differential pricing can “provide choice to consumers and help them manage their costs. It can also help to drive data for social good – in markets where there is no restriction on differential pricing, such as in our African markets, we have seen the emergence of free access for education, health, jobs and other services.”
– Ex-ante regulation for differential pricing ban: Idea differed slightly from Vodafone’s stance. It suggested that TRAI instead could play a passive role in enforcing a differential pricing ban. “An ex-post examination of the tariff plans on a case by case basis after giving a reasonable opportunity to the operators of being heard would have been a pragmatic and future-proof strategy,” Idea added.
On Net Neutrality exceptions
– Enterprise services, VPNs, IoT, online gaming: Vodafone wanted Net neutrality exceptions for specialized services like “telehealth, connected cars, Smart Grids, massive multiplayer video games, live broadcast events, emergency services”. Idea also wanted NN exception for specialized and enterprise services like VPNs and CDNs and other services that require “guaranteed level of QoS”.
– CDNs and Peering: Both Idea and Vodafone wanted TRAI to exclude network peering and CDNs from the NN purview. According to Vodafone, CDNs allows content providers to stream data packets directly from their hard disks rather streaming it via the Internet. Idea also reiterated Vodafone’s stance CDNs and peering allows for better network optimization.
On traffic management
– No blocking or throttling of lawful content: Vodafone said that telcos should not be allowed to block or throttle content unless (i) the content is deemed unlawful by a court. (ii) to maintain network security and prevent cyber-attacks (iii) to implement data caps (iv) to optimize video (v) to allow parental control. Idea also reiterated the same.
– Telcos can prioritize traffic if a standard or QoS demands it: Idea said that telcos can be allowed to “prioritize specific category of application as may be defined by standard bodies (like 3GPP) from time to time…and unless the services are governed by certain QoS related regulations”.
– ‘Prioritization of services like IPTV, VoLTE, online health services’: Vodafone wanted TRAI’s 1999 stance that banned a telco from discriminate users to be applied in the context of net neutrality. But it asks TRAI to allow prioritization of services like emergency, health, IPTV, and VoLTE over rest of the services offered on the Internet.