FAQs

The Easy Questions

The Difficult Questions

The Easy Questions

Question: What is going on?

Answer: India’s telecom regulator TRAI has begun a consultation process (read) to decide three things:

  1. Should there be licensing of Whatsapp, WeChat, Ola, Uber, Line, Viber, Hike, Skype (communication Internet companies), and Flipkart, Snapdeal, Paytm, Saavn, Gaana, YouTube, Redbus, Naukri, Makemytrip (non-communication Internet companies ) in India or not?
  2. Should there be licensing for only communication Internet companies, but not for non-communication?
  3. Should telecom operators in India (Airtel, Idea, Vodafone, Uninor, Reliance Communications, Reliance Jio) be allowed to do “traffic shaping” and use differential pricing:
    • Slow down some sites/apps and speed up others
    • Make some sites/apps/types of services more expensive, some sites/apps/types of services cheaper. Slice up the Internet into packs, so that instead of buying as per kb or mb, you are buying, say, a Whatsapp pack, a Twitter pack, a Flipkart pack.
    • Create gateways so you get only some part of the Internet.
Question: How will it impact me as a user?

Answer:

  1. If there is licensing of Internet companies:

    • If it had been there a few years ago, Whatsapp would not have been available in India unless they bought a license from the Indian government. The next big thing to come out globally (or even the little sites and services only you and a few others know and love), would have to buy a license to be made available in India. @NeutralWeb: The UAE has already banned Whatsapp Voice. (link)
    • The next great idea from an Indian startup will not be available to you: it would be available to the rest of the world first, and then later in India if the government gives them a license.
    • You might have to buy a separate packs for different licensed apps or services.
  2. If there is licensing of communications services only:

    • If Whatsapp refuses to buy a license, it will not be available in India.
    • If Paytm or Quikr don’t buy a license, then you, as a buyer, will not be able to chat with a merchant via their platform. If Goqii doesn’t buy a license, then you won’t be able to chat with a fitness trainer via their app. If Facebook doesn’t buy a license, then Facebook might be available, but Facebook Messenger will not. Anything that uses messaging and voice will need to buy a license, or the Indian government will block it.

      Anonymous Commenter: Should apps, whose main function is not communication, be allowed to bundle communication functionality inside them?

    • TRAI views Ola and Uber as messaging apps with geolocation. Seriously. Read 3.1.1 here. Maybe they’re right: you are messaging a driver. They’ll need to buy a license.
  3. If there is traffic shaping:

    • If there is speed discrimination: Telecom operators complain about how much bandwidth video takes up. So they might slow down YouTube so that you can access other sites or get YouTube to pay them to keep the same speed or make it faster. Why should you care? Because a Spuul or an Ogle might not be able to do this (read), and might never work for you because they’ll be too slow. YouTube wins. Also, if YouTube is made faster, the rest of your connection slows down a little, because of limited bandwidth. YouTube has done deals with Airtel before (read).
    • If there is price discrimination: Did you like it when Airtel made VoIP (Skype, Viber) more expensive? Today you don’t really think about how much you pay to access a site or an app because you’re paying to access the Internet, in kb and mb. Airtel wants to change this. So a different price for shopping, maybe a different price for Flipkart and Amazon. Instead of paying a monthly fee, now you’re paying to access each service separately, not knowing how much that will cost you. Sometimes telecom operators will increase the price of video separately, sometimes they’ll increase the price of messaging. You won’t really know how much you’re paying. You’ll start using a few things less (because more expensive), and a few things more (cheaper). Some big companies (Google, Facebook, Twitter) might even pay telecom operators.

    • If there are gateways: You’ll get limited access to the Internet. A few sites. On Internet.org, you get Cleartrip, but not MakeMyTrip, so you can’t really compare which is cheaper. You get Cricinfo but not Cricbuzz. You get Bing but not Google Search. You get OLX but not Quikr. To use a gaming analogy: the Internet is a free roam environment. You can go wherever you want. Would you be okay with a gated experience that tells you what can and cannot use? If not, why should those people who are just coming online not get to see the full Internet, the best and the worst of it?

Question:But what’s wrong with Facebook’s Internet.org? Why can’t people get free Internet if they want it?

Answer: You have to understand the impact it has on the Internet ecosystem, and the impact that has on your choice:

  • Internet.org isn’t free Internet. It’s free Facebook + a few sites. You get a limited experience of the Internet, and Facebook (or the telecom operators) define which sites are available on it. As explained above, you have fewer choices, and Facebook plays king-maker.
  • Facebook wants to become the gateway to the mobile web, so that you access everything via it. The more powerful Facebook becomes, the more difficult it will be for you to find things it doesn’t want to. As a publisher, Facebook reduced the reach of my news stories, trying to decide what you should see in your newsfeed, even if you like my page. If Facebook becomes the primary access point on mobile, I will have to pay them to be seen (they have a Boost Post option), or my site will die. Google is still better, because search is based on your intent: you can still randomly land on my page via search. Also read: What Facebook Doesn’t Show You.

    Anonymous Commenter: Also, Google has been sued multiple times for having manipulated search results to rank it's own inferior content above others (read).

  • There are two definitions of the word free. Would you want a free (zero cost) Internet, if the Internet wasn’t free (as in freedom)?
  • Airtel did the same thing with their “One touch Internet”. If this is allowed, everyone will have their own gateway. So users will have a different list of services on Airtel, Idea, Vodafone, Tata Docomo, Uninor, MTS. Maybe even landline ISPs will do this. Maybe governments looking to offer free WiFi will do this. The Internet, when accessed from India, will never be the same again. Remember “Airtel Live”, where you got a portal with limited access? You want the Internet to be like THAT?

    Anonymous Commenter: Zero-rating is sometimes viewed as a marketing tactic used by ISPs and Internet Companies to push to users apps/services which serve vested interests or could be directly/indirectly owned by Telcos stakeholders. They basically play with consumer's penchant for free stuff to 'psychologically' reduce their choices and reduce viability chances of competing alternatives in the long run. Internet.org is viewed as strategy by Facebook to penetrate developing markets to boost user base and minimize future competition (read).

Tim Berners Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web wrote:

Of course, [net neutrality] is not just about blocking and throttling. It is also about stopping ‘positive discrimination’, such as when one internet operator favours one particular service over another. If we don’t explicitly outlaw this, we hand immense power to telcos and online service operators. In effect, they can become gatekeepers — able to handpick winners and the losers in the market and to favour their own sites, services and platforms over those of others. This would crowd out competition and snuff out innovative new services before they even see the light of day.

Question: So I’ll only use home, office or public WiFi/Broadband. Or mostly

Answer: Not everyone has that option. Why shouldn’t they get access to the same Internet that you do? Secondly, once the TRAI allows this, what stops ISPs from doing the same thing? Remember this model can very truly be applied to the broadband as well. So WiFi may also have “limited connectivity” for lesser value packs, with some sites or apps blocked.

Question: The TRAI won’t let this happen. Aren’t they supposed to protect consumer interest?

Answer: Read the paper here (pdf), or its shortened version here (Google Doc). The paper mostly presents a telecom industry point of view. Note that the TRAI document mentions Also, the TRAI appears to have decided to do something at least, find a middle ground, which might involve some licensing or allow for some Net Neutrality violations. Quote from the consultation paper:

5.38 Therefore, the two extremes- strict NN and no regulation- are inherently flawed. Banning all discrimination is over-inclusive and restricts the evolution of the network. Allowing all discrimination can lead to
exclusion and, effectively, make the rule against blocking meaningless.
Hence, a few standards or principles such as ‘No Blocking’ and fixed QoS
standards ought to be specified to respond to concerns

This means there might be some regulation and some traffic shaping and discrimination. It just wants to figure out how much of this should be allowed.

Also, the TRAI mentions in the paper that this was based on a seminar held in Delhi in August 2014. I was there. Lots of Internet companies spoke up against this (we covered most of it), but their point of view is not represented in the paper.

Also, the TRAI Chairman said then that “Over the last 6-8 months, a number of CEOs from the telecom sectors have come and spoken to me about the impending problem of OTT.” Lobbyists from the COAI have been pushing the TRAI to do this (read). They’ve finally got this consultation out.

Question: Yeah, but the TRAI still protects consumer/public interest, no?

Answer: Some other statements from the consultation paper on why the Internet needs regulation, licensing and/or traffic shaping. You be the judge.

  1. Free speech

    Yet another potentially problematic area is that users of the social media websites express opinions freely without the usual social restraint. - 3.25 (Page 53)

  2. Big data is bad

    It is said that Big Data can even predict an individual’s future actions. Although Big Data provides immense opportunity for organizations, individuals, governments and society to mine information for several uses, along with these opportunities emerge additional risks. Several concerns are being raised; most important among them is the privacy of an individual. Big Data (not Big Brother) is watching. - 3.31 (Page 55)

  3. Children need to avoid file sharing, chat rooms and online gaming

    Also children need to be advised to avoid File-Sharing / Peer-to-Peer (P2P) Sites, Chat rooms and online gaming. - 3.35 e. (Page 58)

  4. Health apps need regulation

    Various mobile applications relating to health and fitness are not subject to any regulatory framework to protect users. - **3.33 (Page 56)

    Sunil Abraham: Health Apps are subject to all the regulations of Section 43A of the IT Act (at the very minimum)

  5. Restaurant locating apps are a security threat

    Most applications can trace the user’s location for underlying processes (such as GPS apps finding the nearest restaurants etc.). This information may be used to commit a crime, or the location itself may be the target of a crime. - 3.26 (Page 53)

  6. Snapchat's privacy features which are appreciated by users are considered dangerous

    Also, service models in which data is made available only for a limited time-span such as Snapchat pose a new security challenge. All Messages (text, audio/ video or graphics) for Snapchat are automatically deleted from the server after delivery. This is a new challenge in the context of content regulation because of the real-time nature of the messages transmitted. - 3.23 (Page 52)

    Anonymous commenter: It should be pointed out that users greatly appreciate the ephemeral nature of Snapchat because it respects their privacy.

    Anonymous Commenter: SMS and MMS are a security disaster for the userread.

  7. You can be manipulated

    This involves psychological manipulation of people into performing actions or divulging confidential information. Recently, Facebook manipulated information posted on 689,000 users' home pages and found it could make people feel more positive or negative through a process of "emotional contagion". - 3.35 d. (Page 57)

How will it impact me as a startup?

Answer:Simple:

  1. Competition: Only the big ones with deep pockets will be able to strike deal with telcos to make themselves available on their networks. A startup by, say four college kids, who have invested their own money to build the company, will not have the wherewithal to cut deals with each and every telco. There will be no level playing field. And many genuinely innovative companies will lose out because of this.
  2. Time to market: Time to Market will greatly increase. A startup product will have to be evaluated by every Telco out there. Each will have it's own complications. (Anonymous commentor)
  3. Conflict of Interest with telecom companies : How will Airtel deal with an mobile/online music streaming company which competes with its own offering Wynk. How will it deal with a messaging startup which competes with Hike, which Bharti Enterprises (Airtel’s parent company) has a stake in? How will Snapdeal be dealt with by Reliance Jio, since Reliance Industries owns Homeshop18? (Anonymous commentor)
  4. Agility: if VoIP or messaging is a different pack or price from regular Internet telephony, and a startup wants to integrate it into its offering, will it need a license from the Indian government, or a telecom operator? The telecom operators have an executive who manages “vendor relations”, called a “Supply Chain Manager”. Startups will not have the ability to chop and change and reimagine consumer experiences.

The Difficult Questions

Question: What is the rationale for not letting telcos use their pipes to maximize their business goals. If Levers can sell the same shampoo for different prices in different markets; or if Medianama can have different rates for different advertisers. (Alok Mittal on Facebook)

Answer:

  1. Public utilities are regulated differently: Telecom operators license a public resource: spectrum. In the same way that we regulate how coal mines draw coal, or how toll booths charge cars that go through them, we have to regulate how telecom companies charge users. Levers and MediaNama are private companies, their resources and products are not public property. Differential charging is fine: heavy users (like Heavy Traffic Vehicles) are charged on the basis of their usage. That’s why you have expensive data plans and cheaper data plans. You don’t stop each car, ask where they’re going, and charge accordingly. You don’t stop each vehicle, find out the value of the goods they’re carrying, and charge accordingly. I’m all for businesses getting the freedom to do what they want, but spectrum, and hence Internet access, is licensed public property, not the private property of telecom operators.


    Structurally, there is also significant market concentration (a point made below). Broadband and Internet access is oligopolistic in nature, and telecom operators work like cartels. That’s why Mobile Number Portability is great, because it gives you the freedom. However, not all networks are equal, not all spectrum availability is equal. To protect consumer rights, and indeed (a point made below), the freedom to do business online, regulation has to protect neutrality online, not allow the platform to discriminate and play king-maker. (thanks to this tweet for reminding me about this point)


    A point made here: Levers doesn’t price shampoo differently based on whether you’re shampooing the hair or the beard.


    Anonymous commentator adds: You buy "Quality of Access". But once you have access you should have the freedom to do whatever with it without further interruption, restriction, influence or coercion through unfair tactics from the "Access Provider".

    There's a question later "I already buy multiple prepaid packs. How is this different? I'm confused and need more simple references".


    The answer to that can be referred here.


    Conclusion: You can buy a sedan, an SUV, a hatchback, a luxury car, a sports car, a truck , a bus or whatever. But once you buy that vehicle, the car maker has NO say in what, where, why, when, how you use the car.

  2. Impact on the Internet ecosystem: For the growth of the Internet (the Digital India goal), you need a stable platform, and for access to be open. Startups need the stability of the knowledge that just because they launch a service, it will not be slowed down, blocked, sliced into a separate package that a user will have to buy from a telecom operator, and a big competitor like Facebook or Google will not pay off a telecom operator to make their own service free, while a startup can’t afford to make its own service for free. A level playing field. If the Internet loses this, consumers will not be able to try the latest global service just because they don’t have an interconnect or carriage agreement with an Indian telecom operator. Indian startups will switch to markets where the laws allow more freedom. I know I would, if I needed to (though, I can’t because India is my only market, and I’ve always only wanted it that way).

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot. (watch)

Is this the Internet that you want? (via)

@adityamishra: I agree that TSPs should be allowed to maximise their business goals ie Revenues, profits etc. They have a right to it as much as any business. But their right needs to stop where it infringes upon the rights of other businesses. TSPs have a right to charge more for their data service if SMS usage is going down and data usage is picking up. But why should they charge more or less for specific services?

I think these two are two different questions and need to be discussed as such. The first one a decision internal to Telcos. They decide the price of their product. The second one is about deciding the end user pricing of someone else’s product. Why should any one market player have that power over other market players? To extend the analogy given in the question - does HUL get to control the price of shampoo sold by P&G? (Actually the analogy is wrong because HUL is a producer and not a distributor).

Question: Does charging all Internet companies 50 paise/GB to boost investment in internet infrastructure violate net neutrality?

Answer:

@nixxin: It does. The Internet is a two sided market: on one side, you have users like you and me, and the other has Internet companies (Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Whatsapp, Twitter). We use the connection provided by telecom operators to reach the Internet services. From a revenue generation perspective, the Internet access has a mechanism similar which is one sided: we pay telecom operators to access the Internet. This allows kids in college to create apps without having to sign an agreement with a telecom operator, make money by finding buyers or users for their app. Changing that model changes the principle on which basis the Internet has operated for years, and adds a layer of bureaucracy to the whole thing. Imagine having to stand outside a telecom operator’s office, or filling up a vendor form, just to allow people to access your app or service. It’s not about Rs 0.50 per GB.

It’s about the principles that have allowed the Internet to flourish to be changed just because telecom operators are seeing users prefer a more open and democratic ecosystem. In telecom, you paid for how much you used, and what you use. Online, you only pay for how much you use, not what you use. Look at the vibrancy of a more open ecosystem.

I started MediaNama in 2 weeks, and we’re now 6 years old. I paid Rs 500 to register a domain name, Rs 500 a month for hosting, and a free Wordpress blog. If I wanted to start a Mobile VAS company (ringtone, ringback tone, mobile radio etc), I would have to go to each telecom operator to give me a short code, and convince each to keep renewing it every year. Telecom operators are losing control over content because of the Internet, and the TRAI paper says that too. Also, this is like charging Hafta (their pound of flesh). As an Internet company, I’m running a shop and I have consumers. The telcos wants to charge me for the consumer using a road to come to my store?

Anonymous commenter: Telcos should have NO control over the flow of content because they were never responsible for its creation, or of the creation tools.

Question: Carriage fees are norm in cable why not apply that to telecom? (source)

Answer:

@nixxin: Carriage fees were extortion in the cable business. Because TV channels make money by advertising, DTH and cable companies refused to carry their channels without paying. The TRAI legalized this. Just because it exists in Cable doesn’t mean it should exist in the Internet space. Small startups will not be in a position to negotiate with telecom operators. (Anonymous commenter adds: That is why starting a TV channel is very costly. Otherwise, comedy groups like AIB, TVF and EIC would’ve been able to start TV channels easily.) Also TV channels require government approval. We would have never had the vibrant video ecosystem we have online if it was regulated.

Something like this happened in Mobile VAS (wallpapers, ringtones, hello tunes, Mobile Radio etc.). In that case, 4-5 odd companies dominated the entire Mobile VAS space and there was corruption in the telecom operator ranks because someone had the power to allow or disallow a service. Smaller companies were asked to come via them. The Internet is open, Mobile is not used to being open.

Imagine if Viber, WeChat and Line, all messaging and voice calling apps,, were not available for you to try out because as a messaging service, they needed to get approval from Vodafone, Idea, Airtel, Uninor etc. The rest of the world will have it. You won’t. Like the latest movies, we would be waiting for the latest apps to be made available in India. Imagine if Flipkart had to stand in queue to get a license to sell books online before it started: that was a time when no one believed that ecommerce in India. Small startups will not be in a position to negotiate with telecom operators.
would be big. Look at it now.

Question: Net Neutrality-> Higher prices-> slower adoption of mobile internet! (source)

Answer:

@nixxin: Three things:

  1. What is the Internet you want? Do you want a limited, closed Internet where you can’t explore anything, even if it is free? Would you want a muft (zero cost) Internet if it wasn’t a mukt (as in freedom) Internet, one that allows you to explore, learn, collaborate? Do we want to give those coming online an inferior Internet?
  2. Prices will come down when there is real competition in the telecom industry. Right now, they’re all collaborating on this issue, and there is no competition. Airtel, Idea and Vodafone have 66% of the active Mobile users in India, and a majority of the Mobile Internet users. Have you seen how they raise prices together, one after the other? Mobile prices only came down when there was competition, when Tata Docomo brought in per-second-billing, because there was real competition.
  3. India has poor Internet infrastructure. It ranks 122 globally in Broadband Penetration. Connectivity sucks. If there is abundance of connectivity, prices will come down. We have no wireline internet because BSNL and MTNL haven’t been unbundled. The government doesn’t sell spectrum to increase mobile and Internet access, only to pay for its expenditure. This is why we have unreliable, crappy wireline speeds, and unreliable crappy wireless Internet.
Question: What is legal definition of net neutrality and what should be role of TRAI/ govt in your view because we know government intervention can have serious negative effects?

Answer:

@nixxin: There is no precise or universal legal definition for network neutrality internationally and it is not defined in any convention. It is most commonly identified by a set of principles which have been adopted by several countries in different ways. It is developing as an area of regulation however India with the world's third largest base of Internet users require it urgently.

The Internet is built on principles of openness and freedom. At the core of this is non-discrimination at an ISP level. So, three principles of Net Neutrality which have emerged and are reflected in some foreign legislation including the most recent order of the FCC in Open Internet include:

  1. No discrimination in terms of speed: no throttling (slowing something down, like Comcast did with Netflix), or speeding it up (like Airtel did with YouTube).
  2. No discrimination in terms of access: no gateways like Facebook’s Internet.org, which only includes a few websites and plays kingmaker. No blocking of certain sites just because they compete with you (for example, some operator could block Saavn.com because it has its own music service… :D).
  3. No discrimination in terms of cost: access to one service should not be more expensive than another. Today, when you access something online, you don’t really think of how much it costs you to access, because it’s all the same. This means that startups compete on the basis of product, not on the basis of cost of access. If there is discrimination in terms of cost, then startups will have to queue up outside a telecom operator’s doorstep, and the telecom operator will play kingmaker. Companies with deeper pockets will pay to make their services free, and this way, kill competition because other services will be paid.

@aparatbar: Timothy Wu, Professor of Law, Columbia Law School who first coined the term, “network neutrality”, stated in his original proposal in 2002 that, “As a general description, the proposal would strike a balance: it would forbid broadband operators, absent a showing of harm, from restricting what users do with their internet connection, while giving the operator general freedom to manage bandwidth consumption and other matters of local concern.” (source)

Anonymous Commenter: Net Neutrality concept originates from "Common Carriage / Carrier Law". "Network neutrality means applying well-established "common carrier" rules to the Internet in order to preserve its freedom and openness. Common carriage prohibits the owner of a network, that holds itself out to all-comers, from discriminating against information by halting, slowing, or otherwise tampering with the transfer of any data (except for legitimate network management purposes such as easing congestion or blocking spam)."

Question: Which countries have a good model to deal with this?

Answer: @aparatbar: At present several countries are models of network neutrality legislation. These are segregated on the basis of strong, moderate and proposals.

Country

Legislation

Key features

Brazil

(strong)

Marco Civil da Internet adopted on April 23, 2014.

(link)

Art. 9 of the Act guarantees network neutrality in Brazil. It states that the party responsible for the transmission, switching or routing has the duty to process, on an isonomic basis, any data packages, regardless of content, origin and destination, service, terminal or application. The aim of this provision is to prevent operators from charging higher rates for accessing content that uses greater bandwidth, like video streaming or voice communication services.

Chile

Ecuador

(moderate)

The Telecommunications Act

December 17, 2014

(link)

Clause 18 of Art. 22 dictates that subscribers, customers and users of telecommunications services shall be entitled to, “[...] access any application or authorized service available on the internet network. Providers may not block, interfere, discriminate, hinder or restrict the right of its users or subscribers to use, send, receive or offer any content, application, development or legal service through Internet or networks in general or other forms of information and communication technologies, nor may they limit the right of a user or subscriber to incorporate or use any class of instruments, devices or gadgets on the network, provided they are legal”. However, this has been recently limited by an amendment in Article 64 which permits the establishment of Tariff Plans (link).

Mexico

(strong)

The Federal Telecommunications and Radio Broadcasting Act Adopted on July 14, 2014

[link]

The law adopts the following principles, (i) free election; (ii) non-discrimination; (iii) privacy; (iv) transparency; (v) traffic management; (vi) quality; and (vii) sustained infrastructure development [link].

Netherlands

(strong)

Network Neutrality provisions

adopted on June 14, 2011

[link]

The Network Neutrality provisions are contained in Article 7.4a of the Telecommunications Act which mandated that, “Providers of public electronic communication networks which deliver internet access services and providers of internet access services do not hinder or slow down applications and services on the internet...”. (link)

Question: Government maximises revenues when it auctions spectrum, what’s wrong in telecom companies trying to do the same? Internet is not a public utility, American courts have in the past struck down FCC regulation on Internet companies saying the same.

Answer:

@nixxin: I would argue that the Internet is a public utility. Spectrum is a public resource, leased to telecom operators for a certain period of time (20 years). That doesn’t necessarily give them the right to control whether we can access some services and not others, pay more for accessing some services, not others, have some services accessed at a higher speed than others. We pay for access to certain MB or KB, and that has been the norm. Look at how it has benefited us: is there any space as open, collaborative, competitive and vibrant as the Internet? Businesses and companies are free to operate whatever services they want, reimagine consumer experiences. Features become full businesses. That freedom will get constrained by this approach to maximise revenues by restricting. Telecom operators should be seeking to maximise revenues by making us use more of the Internet. They’re slicing the pie instead of growing the pie.

Most core services - communications, commerce - run on digital infrastructure, and it brings in competitiveness and efficiency. The moment you find that you can’t do some things, the Internet will break. For example: if there is a license for a messaging app in India, would you be able to chat with merchants on a Quikr or Paytm app to negotiate rates? If there is a separate license for video, and you don’t have one, you might download a health app that has both a trainer and exercise videos. You might not be able to interact with the trainer, or watch videos, unless you have a separate license for apps, a separate license for video and one for messaging. This will break the Internet into data packs. Don’t believe me? Read what Airtel said: “We are trying to change the vocabulary away from megabytes and gigabytes in to songs and videos” (source) and what Uninor did: here.

Anonymous commenter: In 20 years, Internet connectivity will be a core fabric for everyday necessities of life, in the same way that electricity is part of the core fabric of everyday life.Whether it be financial inclusion, health, governance, education, entertainment, communication. When electricity was being rolled out, if we saw it as being offered differentially for different services (lower cost electricity for Reliance home appliances, less reliable connection when you use a third party electrical tool), it wouldn’t be as pervasive and reliable as it is today. The Internet is at that same crossroads, between between a tool to connect a limited subset of services, or becoming a backbone for how our country evolves, innovates, and operates for the next 50 years.

@aparatbar: Past arguments in the United States are based on legal technicalities than the ordinary dictionary definition of, “public utility”. This question to a certain degree is moot given the reclassification of Internet and Broadband utilities have been classified as services under Title II of the Telecommunications Act bringing them under the jurisdiction of the FCC. At present the legal regulations in the US, with the issuance of the Open Internet Order on March 12, 2015 are supportive of network neutrality.

Question: One of the arguments that has surfaced is that differential pricing is necessary for telcos to recover the high costs they bear during spectrum auctions and also to improve their networks. Without differential pricing and revenue sharing, there is no apparent incentive for telcos to upgrade their networks. What's your response to that?

Answer:

@nixxin: That’s what happens in a market where there is insufficient competition. Like I said earlier, the top 3 telecom operators have 66% of the active users, the top 4 have 69%. The top three ISP’s have over 95% of the ISP market. If we had more telecom operators, more ISPs, they would be competing for our money. Telecom operators can make more money, and will make more money with data, if they focus on growing the market, not slicing the market. It’s been growing :

(source behind paywall)

If that kind of growth isn’t incentive to grow networks, then I don’t know what is. India has over 200 million mobile Internet connections. Airtel’s mobile Internet base has grown 2.65 times in two years.

Also, are you trying to tell me they didn’t do their calculations before the auctions, as to how much they can afford? Uninor didn’t win any spectrum because it became expensive. They decided to bail. Airtel, Idea, Vodafone, Jio, Tata Tele continued. How is it the Internet’s fault?

Point is, they are going to be forced to improve networks because consumer demand is growing, and they are making more money. Why should the Internet industry, without whom they wouldn’t have a data business, subsidise this? Telecom operators are trying to change the way ISPs have always operated, trying to convert the Internet into a telecom service.

Question: Could TRAI and Telecom Operators already have a deal? (source)

Answer:

@nixxin: The TRAI held a seminar on April 5th 2014 in Delhi, which I attended, where the Chairman Rahul Khullar said that telecom operator CEO have been meeting him often and complaining about Internet companies being valued very high, while telecom operators provide them access to consumers (in actuality, telecom operators provide consumers access to the Internet.

Anonymous Commenter: A car maker CANNOT say that it provides shopping malls access to buyers and vice-versa. It just provides the buyers access to a "Means of Transport".

Lots of Internet companies (Rediff, Hungama, Paytm, Google) spoke against any intention to license the Internet services there. We’ve documented it here. In the regulation paper, there is hardly any information on what Internet companies said at the seminar, only what telecom companies said.

The first half of the paper has a heavy slant towards telecom operators, and raises issues over which TRAI has zero jurisdiction (copyright, national security, freedom of speech). I wouldn't say that this battle is lost, but the TRAI has is going to find some middle ground. Internet licensing was never a part of that discussion, but has been brought in into this paper. It might be a red herring: it could be that we are glad that the TRAI doesn’t have licensing for the Internet, but allows telecom operators to violate net neutrality by allowing toll-boothing, traffic shaping, zero rating etc. (explained here) Or it might be that Internet companies are okay with Whatsapp, Viber and other communications services being licensed, but not ecommerce or publishing. Either way, the Internet will not remain the way it currently is. There can and should be no middle ground, in my opinion.

Question: You say telecom companies will abuse net neutrality due to lack of competition and cartelisation, but govt enforced rules may lead to underinvestment in infrastructure, lack of innovation. Doesn’t lack of competition theory apply there too, which will further decrease network quality?

Answer:

@nixxin: Not sure of how lack of competition applies here, and if there is a cartel in operation, the government needs to step in and break cartels. We haven’t seen less investment in infrastructure in the current scenario, and that is the scenario we want to retain.

Question: Why don’t you trust telecoms to maintain current scenario voluntarily?

Answer:

@nixxin: We can’t trust telecom operators to retain current scenario voluntarily because of what they have said and done. Reliance Communications and Facebook have partnered to offer a gated Internet with Internet.org. RCOM and Twitter, Airtel and Google. Airtel tried differential pricing for VoIP. Check what they have been saying here and here.

Question: But airtel backed off due to consumer backlash, isn’t that best kind of market regulating itself? I think market forces won’t let abuse of net neutrality work.

Answer:

@nixxin: Read Airtel’s statement. It said it backed off because the TRAI said it would do a consultation, like it has. The market didn’t regulate Airtel. They got what they wanted: a consultation. I wrote about this here. They now want to use this consultation paper to legitimise their business model where they will charge for selected apps on a differential basis.

@mbchandar literally airtel forced TRAI by playing a drama. now what airtel has done will soon become real if TRAI sides with telcos. airtel followed by others. Anonymous Commenter: In fact, TRAI had earlier (in Aug, 2014) rejected plans for consultation (Source)

Question: If the business of companies like Whatsapp, Google and Facebook, is in danger then why are they not coming out fully in support of Net Neutrality?

Answer:

@RedditIndia: This is one of the dangers of not having Net Neutrality. Without Net Neutrality, there would be a possibility that large corporations, like Google and Facebook, can collude with Telecom Operators to stifle competition in India, a very large market for these companies, and restrain the growth of new startups who don't have deep pockets. (Also, Google and Facebook are members of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) which counts multiple TSPs as its members, like AirTel, Vodafone, Aircel etc.)

@nixxin: Also don’t forget that companies like Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp and Google have violated Net Neutrality in India. Twitter was free on Vodafone, Facebook as Internet.org, Whatsapp tied up with multiple telcos for Whatsapp packs, Google had data free with Android One, and a tie up with Airtel for increasing YouTube speeds during the IPL. All of this violates Net Neutrality. Having done this, can they now publicly back Net Neutrality and have the humility to admit that what they did was wrong? I doubt it.

Question: I already buy multiple prepaid packs. How is this different? I'm confused and need more simple references.

Answer:

@RedditIndia

Ist scenario: Let's say you buy a car. You are going to visit a Mall. The road to the Mall has a speed limit of 60 km/hr. But your car maker says that you can drive at 60 km/hr only if the Mall owner pays the car maker else you drive at 30 km/hr. Then the Mall owner charges you extra for the expenditure.

Anonymous commenter: This increases YOUR expenditure.

IInd scenario: Let's say your car has a maximum speed of 60 km/hr. Ideally, you should be able to drive at that speed all the time. You need to visit a doctor. But your car maker says that you can drive at 60 km/hr only if you visit a Shopping Center else you drive at 30 km/hr when going to a doctor. Or you pay the car maker extra every time to drive at 60 km/hr.

Anonymous commenter: IIIrd scenario: Assume there are 3 shopping malls (A, B, C) in a city. Shopping mall (C) is owned by the Car Maker itself.

The car maker allows you to go to his shopping mall for FREE. But charges you extra $ 100 to go to A and $ 200 to go to B, everytime.

Conclusion: You can buy a sedan, an SUV, a hatchback, a luxury car, a sports car, a truck , a bus or whatever. But once you buy that vehicle, the car maker has NO say in what, where, why, when, how you use the car.

You buy "Quality of Access". But once you have access you should have the freedom to do whatever with it without further interruption from the access provider.

Question: Anyone worried about security/privacy? Aren't the TSPs looking at every bits of data consumed now and hence are working hard to get the most-used data packets turned into add-on packs?

Answer:

@nixxin: We are. India doesn’t have a privacy law. There’s a mandate from the government to bring location awareness down to 50 meters. There’s tracking and recording of calls, GSM sniffers (source), Social Media Monitoring via Netra), NATGRID. What’s more, there is no judicial oversight of surveillance. The Centralised Monitoring System is meant to allow governments to tap calls even without telecom operators knowing or receiving orders.

@DekaJayanta: Let me try to answer my question. I think when the network will pay attention to the content of data rather than concentrating solely on delivering, there starts a serious problem. The Telecom Service Providers are trying to make windows for every bit of data and slab it accordingly to charge differentially. By reading the data in a packet, they are definitely breaking privacy as well.

Question: Great! I want to support Net Neutrality. I want to send a mail to TRAI. Can I copy and paste a standard reply?

Answer: Yes, you can do that via savetheinternet.in

Question: Can ISPs block any site without a government order?

Answer:

@nixxin: The way blocking works in India, under Section 69A, blocking is secret. So, typically, without leaks, we don’t even know if the government has gotten something blocked. In case of ISPs, there is an allegation that they have blocked sites. Anonymous, a few years ago, had hacked the servers of Reliance Communications, and found a list of sites blocked, and published them on pastebin. Details here. There’s no telling whether this is true or not, but I wouldn’t say that this may not have happened.

Question: Is there some info-graphic that I can share with my peers on social media to make them aware of the importance of Net Neutrality.

Answer:

@RedditIndia: Here is one info-graphic created by a redditor (source) and he/she has made it license free. You are free to use this to spread awareness. https://i.imgur.com/gazt94B.png

Anonymous Commenter: You can also freely use these funny memes to spread the message.

You can also find more resources on Support Net Neutrality page.

Question: Electricity companies already charge based on usage. Above a limit, you are charged differentially, so why should telcos not charge differentially?

Answer:

@ravithinkz: I think we need electricity neutrality. We should not segregate based on the type of consumption - household or industrial or agriculture, after all, what we do with our kilowatt-hour is none of their business, isn’t it?. Combine them all and charge everyone with the same unit rate and have same amount of outages.

@DekaJayanta: The model of electricity companies charging on usage is what we look up to in case of Telecom companies as well. A 1 GB pack for the present rate is OK instead of getting charged Rs 1 per website. I can make use of that 1 GB in whichever way i want to - browsing all the "legal" websites. Electricity companies don't ask which devices you will use with the connection. They do provide a cap - to manage load better - but they don't charge you like say Rs 100 access fee for using AC, Rs 50 for washing machine etc. They neither charge you differently for different brands - LG refrigerator will have low electricity rates than Samsung! In this case, the telecom companies are pitching for a regulation where they would be able to: 1. Charge access fees for websites which "are harming their business". Like preference to Hike over WhatsApp. 2. They can provide better speed to Bing rather than Google (or the other way round) and may also levy extra charges on accessing Google. 3. This will also have bigger impact on small start-ups who would be coaxed to go for deals with these telecom companies - the almost certain death of new players.

Anonymous Commenter: Electricity Company analogy is valid only for "Price for Quality of Access", that is the price you pay to access per unit of electricity depending on your usage band. "Price for Quality of Access" is different from how ISPs are defining it. ISPs are saying, "Pay them depending on where Internet is used, i.e., both the user and the online service used by the user should pay the ISP." If I use a 8 Mbps internet connection with a monthly download limit of "80 GB", obviously I will pay more than someone using 8 Mbps with a monthly download limit of "10 GB". And also I don't think there is a concept of "Bandwidth throttling of electricity", which is a major concern with Internet Bandwidth throttling.

Also read this article by Secretary of State for European Affairs for the Portuguese government who says, "The real question is - Who gets to decide on Content?"

@adityamishra The analogy is broken. Besides the excellent points made below; electricity is a regulated market. This means that the regulator fixes the price and not the electricity company. In telecom, it is the TSP that sets the price and not TRAI.

Furthermore, the price increases with consumption bands in electricity because richer customers (ie higher consumption band) subsidises the poor customers (ie low consumption band). There is no such subsidy in telecom.

One can compare the electricity transmission business with Telco business in a limited way. This can be done by looking at the Fee that Reliance charges Tata Power in Mumbai for using its network. It’s flat fee per unit and does not change with consumption bands.
@ankitpandey: Telecom companies already charge you based on your usage. The FUP (Fair usage policy) is exactly that, where the user is charged more if over a certain limit. However the Electric companies do not charge you for the kind of appliance you are running using that electricity. Whether you use an AC or an electric kettle or a fan, the charges remain same. THIS is what the ISPs and TelCos are trying to change with the internet.

@chupchap: The issue is not about metered rates. The issue is when the electricity provider charges you separate rates for using a bulb and a different rate for using a bed lamp. You should be charged based on usage and not based on what the usage was for. Continuing the electricity analogy, you cannot run an industry using a home electricity connection. Similarly you cannot set up a server using your home internet. There are already checks in place to avoid abuse of the system. FUP is not part of net neutrality and that is something that will be fixed my free market over time (or at least that is the hope).

@mbchandar i think telcos already charging differentially based on usage. remember FUP applied on broadband which is started by airtel and then everyone followed upto bsnl. what if electricity are charged based on devices - for computers, for lights, for ACs, for Water heaters, induction cookers etc each consume different power …. would you be willing to pay per device usage….. telcos suggesting of charging OTT players are like that.

Question: Telephone companies are not doing charity, they need to make money. If they are losing revenue because of WhatsApp and other services, isn’t it fair if they charge WhatsApp and others or charge us for different apps?

Answer:

@adityamishra Telecom Operators have the option of increasing the price of net access across the board to make up for the lost revenue. Why should they decide what to charge for and what not to charge for?

@chupchap: Should electricity board charge you extra if you have a solar water heater? Should you have to take permission from them to set up a solar water heater?

@mbchandar just because telcos are losing money and hence policy has to be made for them: that idea is insane. They have to come up with new VAS. Like they did with caller tunes, ringtones, sms packs etc.

Anonymous Commenter: Nobody is stopping Telcos from diversifying their business portfolio. Telcos can freely launch their own competing apps BUT don't break Net Neutrality.

@DekaJayanta: We are looking this from a very micro-level. What if Telecom Opertors say only TOI.com, Gaana.com and a few xyz.com will be available through the basic pack. And for every other bunch of websites, you need to pay (say Rs 2 per website). This sounds like a cable TV rather than internet. What if a company (TOI for an example here) strikes a deal with say Airtel. Someone willing to browse HT will have to pay an extra fee! (Example for better understanding)

Question: Apart from spreading awareness (by posting status messages/pictures) and mailing the TRAI, what are the other things that users can do to pressurise the government to let the internet remain the way it is?

Answer: We’ve launched savetheinternet.in to help you quickly respond to TRAI. You can learn more at netneutrality.in For discussions, you can follow Reddit India.

Question: Is there a way for us to send physical mailers into the TRAI, PMO office?

Answer: The TRAI’s physical address is here.

Question: Can you help us draft something?

Answer: We’re working on something, which should be ready next week. We need to get this right. Once we’ve got the answers done, we’ll share publicly. Please use those as the base, and use it to write your own answers. You might agree with some, disagree with others. What you mail should be YOUR opinion. We’ll be there to help debate it so that you can decide for yourself.

Question: What steps the Indian startups are taking to make their voices heard? Are they supporting #NetNeutrality or are still not taking out their cards? Now that we have a list of startups, can we note down their views?

Answer:

  • Start off by telling others. We’ve created a document that allows them to do this, here.
  • Help us draft answers, and we’ll help you draft YOUR answers.
Question: What is the reaction of the media? Are they concerned or still not taking sides?

Answer: They are taking sides, and that's their call, as long as it's an open bias, and readers know that bias. That's the beauty of the Internet: you're not restricted to one point of view because you get only one newspaper or a few TV channels. The media will take its own call. You have to tell people what you believe in, and get them involved.