New Delhi: Mobile operators on Friday said that they may have to increase data tariffs by up to six times to remain viable if the proposed regulations did not offer a level-playing field with net-based services such as Skype and WhatApp.
Although they “supported” net neutrality and launched a campaign to link the unconnected to the internet, they said that high data rates would become unaffordable for a large number of people, denying them access to the Internet.
Pitching for same regulation for all communication services, COAI, the GSM industry group, said operators are required to ensure a level of service quality, share revenue with the government and intercept communication for preventing any terrorist act, but these rules are not applicable on Internet-based messaging and calling applications.
“If same rules are not to apply, then the only way this industry can be viable is data rate will be 6x from where they are there today. After that, you can do what you want. But if you take data rate to 5x or 6x, a lot of people in India will never be able to access the Internet,” COAI vice-chairman and Bharti Airtel India MD Gopal Vittal said. Vittal said telecom operators want same set of rules to apply on same kinds of services.
“OTT gives us business. We as industry love OTT. Only we are saying that same rules should be applied on same communication service. If rules are same, frankly technology doesn’t matter, he said.
Airtel’s tariff plan in December, which was later withdrawn, had triggered a major discussion on net neutrality and its new Airtel Zero scheme along with the TRAI consultation paper has turned into a national debate with petitions pouring into the regulator’s office to ensure net neutrality.
At a press conference, COAI asked for voice services to be regulated under the same rules as them, and also argued in favour of zero-rating of apps and services. The COAI’s clarification came on the day of the deadline of submissions to the Trai on regulation of OTT services, and weeks after the commencement of online activism that got over a million pro-net neutrality emails to the regulator.
“As an industry we unequivocally support net neutrality. Over the next five years we need to invest Rs 500,000 crore if we are to realize a digital India,” said Vittal. The telco’s zero-rating platform has been under fire from activists, with criticism of splicing the internet into services and for discrimination between internet services. Members of the association yet again compared zero-rating platforms to toll-free numbers. They added an analogy of sample products. “Sampling of different products is an industry practice. This platform is open to all,” said Vittal, speaking at a press conference. He called the concerns of a differential, spliced up Internet a “baseless fear”. However, the Save the Internet coalition had earlier called this analogy incorrect.
On Thursday, COAI launched a campaign called Sabka Internet, with a website called sabkainternet.in, claiming an aim to connect one billion unconnected citizens. An SMS across various networks received by several people says “COAI supports Sabka Internet. I believe that I should have a right to choose what I access on the internet. To support, give a missed call to 1800 270 6899.” Those who dialled the number received messages in English and Hindi, saying: “Thank you for supporting #SabkaInternet for a Digital Bharat with #1 Right to choose what you want to access, #2. Right to an affordable Internet, #3. Access to solutions that make internet affordable for you, #4. Same rules being applicable for the same services. To opt-out give a missed call to 02261227979.”
As for voice over internet protocol or VoIP services, the industry body repeatedly made the point that the same services should be regulated the same way. “The only ask is, when anyone is supplying the same services, they should be subject to the same rules. If not, it will lead to a situation where infrastructure is jeopardised,” says Vittal.
The Nasscom had recently suggested a “solution” out of the standoff, saying that telcos could allow for this disruption in service delivery models, by tying their revenues to data instead of voice. Idea Cellular MD Himanshu Kapania says that way, data rates stand to go up by six times. Also present at the conference were COAI director general Rajan Mathews, Vodafone CEO Sunil Sood, director and CEO of Videocon Telecom Arvind Bali, and Ashok Sharma of Aircel.
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