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We were not misled! Startup founders respond to telco association COAI

SaveTheInternet campaign released a letter arguing that imposition of network fees puts internet services at a competitive disadvantage; COAI then said that the letter is based on “falsehood and misinformation.”

Disclosure: MediaNama’s Founder Nikhil Pahwa is volunteering with SaveTheInternet campaign for net neutrality.

“We reject the COAI’s [Cellular Operators Association of India’s] claim that the letter was misleading, and believe that this is an attempt to misdirect TRAI [the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India],” said SaveTheInternet on October 12. The letter in question was a submission made by the campaign to TRAI from the startups’ perspective warning that the imposition of additional network fees or regulatory obligations like licensing under a telecom framework puts internet services at a competitive disadvantage. Many startup founders have come out in support of the campaign, clearly stating that they were not misled.


“We urge the TRAI to read the letter for the principles outlined in the letter, signed by 132 founders, and uphold principles of net neutrality. In addition, and mentioned in the letter, we urge the TRAI to reject the idea of licensing of online communications services,” it added. This statement comes as a response to COAI urging TRAI not to consider the letter as a submission and the signatures it gathered as credible or valid, according to a report by the Economic Times. 

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Some context please:

In July this year, TRAI conducted a consultation asking stakeholders whether there was a need for a regulatory framework for communication services and also for the selective banning of such services during periods of unrest. As the responses to the consultation trickled in, telcos were all singing the same tune—communication platforms should pay them a network fee, a charge for the use of telcos’ network infrastructure. 

This, as stated by experts such as Standford law professor Barbara van Schewick could lead to a violation of net neutrality. With net neutrality being a key concern, the SaveTheInternet campaign was revived. This campaign in 2015 had urged the government to support net neutrality. Just like before, the campaign released a letter arguing that any additional regulation of online services and imposition of network fees, puts internet services at a competitive disadvantage. Further, it pointed out that this letter was signed by 132 startup founders including the founders of Instamojo, MapmyIndia, Matrimony.com and Paytm to name a few.

What did COAI’s letter say?

“We would like to submit that the very foundation of this letter lies on falsehood and misinformation, which has been used by the entity from which it originated to gather support and signatures from multiple Indian Internet companies,” COAI said. It said that telcos were not asking for any price differentiation (a concern highlighted in SaveTheInternet’s letter) for similar places entities. 

Telcos argue that the proposed fair charge would be decided based on usage volumes, with certain thresholds to determine the applicable charges. COAI said that the fair share charge has no relation with non-differential treatment and mentioned that “ all provisions of net neutrality, as enunciated in the license conditions, are being, and shall be followed by our [COAI’s]member telecom service providers.”

How did SaveTheInternet respond?

“The fact that one set of Internet users–startups–will be charged differently from others in terms of network bandwidth costs for terminating traffic to users, is a violation of Net Neutrality,” it said. It pointed out that network usage fees and any other interventions that result in incentives to treat traffic sources differently, even if called “fair share” (a term used by telcos in their submissions), “ will undo this globally recognized regulatory approach from the TRAI and the Indian government.” 

Startup founders’ response to COAI:

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