The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has called for comments on its consultation paper on regulatory framework for Over the Top services, which is accessible at page http://trai.gov.in/WriteReaddata/ConsultationPaper/Document/OTT-CP-27032015.pdf
I have submitted the following comments:
Comments on the Consultation Paper on Regulatory frameworks for Over the Top Services
The Regulatory framework as proposed by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India is an alarm. The Members of Parliament and the common man alike needs to be concerned about the implications of TRAI’s sphere or authority expanded to include the Internet which would interfere to alter the fundamental nature of the Internet:
- TRAI seeks to favor Telecom companies at the consumer’s expense by this proposal to alter the core architecture of the Internet, and the core values that make the Internet a free, open and universally accessible eco-system. Internet has transformed the way we do business, the way we all communicate and relate to each other – within and beyond borders. Internet has brought the world together by its end-to-end architecture without a centralized form of control. As an eco-system, it is far more advanced than Telegraphs and Telephones, mostly runs on a business model that is benevolent to all, treats all traffic from every person or organization, big or small, irrespective of nationality or ideology equally. With its architecture and its core values, Internet offers the common man’s greatest hope for freedom of expression and civil liberties and offers the greatest hope for participation in Democracy in its fullest form, minimize conflicts, bridge technological gaps as also bring in a certain degree of equity in the World economy. What TRAI proposes to do is to destroy the very foundations on which the Internet eco-system is built.
- The Telecom Authority wishes to bring the Internet as part of the Telecom Regulation. This would gradually bring in Telecom-like commercial model to the Internet for the benefit of the Telecom companies which would make the Internet very similar to the Cable TV in terms of the high price the consumer pays for access.
- These harmful commercial models would cause net neutrality to erode. Telecom companies would become gatekeepers of Internet Traffic, interfere in Network Traffic which has so far been free of centralized forms of control. Telecom companies would introduce fast-laning for paid traffic which would invariably lead to “throttling” of free traffic, and would lead to situations of extortionist pricing by Telecom companies. Internet would become far more expensive for the common man.
- This would invariably lead to an Internet of walled gardens wherein large Internet companies would contain their users within their sphere of services, making it difficult for users to access the major part of the Internet not offered as part of the services they are subscribed to.
- There are some security concerns about the way the Internet is abused by a certain section of users. Some of the security threats are real, but politicized by Governments to bring in an excessive framework of surveillance both for legitimate and excessively political reasons. The TRAI proposal would enhance the surveillance capabilities of Telecom Companies in the process of enabling Telecom companies to inspect Internet traffic in packets (Deep Packet Inspection) for commercial reasons. DPI could be the ulterior motive for Governments to favor telecom companies. TRAI’s proposal not only favors the Telecom companies, but unseen, makes it easy for the Law and Order Agencies to legally or otherwise monitor on the common man’s Internet usage.
- Regulators dislike the end to end architecture of the Internet with no centralized form of control and wish to alter the architecture in the guise of making the Internet more secure. There have been similar harmful proposals to regulate the Internet in various countries, voted out by public opposition, but these very proposals come back around sometime later by a different name in a different place. The TRAI proposal wraps up elements of such regulatory moves already voted out in other countries. Moreover, in India, Airtel proposed to charge differential rates for different types of traffic, which were withdrawn by overwhelming public opposition. This was a move by a Telecom company that merited TRAI to intervene against the proposal, but it wasn’t TRAI that stopped it. Instead, TRAI brings it back, this time seeking to enable this by Government directive. TRAI’s consultation paper reads like a business case for the Telecom companies printed on Government paper. Rather than look into the regulatory issues concerning how Telcom companies operate, the Regulatory Authority pleads their business case with total disregard to the fact that the Internet has actually brought in newer opportunities for the Telecom companies to enhance their revenues, and these companies are already profitable on the existing Data pricing models. TRAI’s paper misleads the policy makers and common man with the spurious argument that extortive pricing models are necessary to keep telecommunications companies in business. “The worst thing policy makers could do to the Internet would be to allow telecom companies to mess with the Internet.” TRAI appears to argue that the Telecom companies have a right to impose a fanciful pricing model. The paper is partial on Internet companies and misguides the reader with the notion that large Internet companies such as Google and Facebook are profitable at the expense of the cable and phone companies. The Telecom companies do not incur loss on account of OTT traffic, the truth is that the OTT services have opened up the opportunity for Telecom Companies to sell Data plans that have enhanced their revenues. As Deepak Shenoy argues “Data is in fact driving their revenues up, far more than anything else” http://capitalmind.in/2015/04/telecom-companies-are-not-losing-money-to-data-services-the-net-neutrality-debate/ )
Rather than expand its sphere of reach to Internet which requires a completely different thinking, TRAI could focus on the gaps in Telecom regulation:
A. Telecom regulations, even within the Telecom sphere, have restrained consumer experience. For example, sometime ago, TRAI restrained Telecom companies from having peering arrangements among themselves for switching 3G traffic. This affected seamless connectivity for customers on the move.
B. If TRAI is concerned about the cost of communication services to customers, it could work to recommend to the Government to free the Wireless spectrum. After the recent spectrum controversy on spectrum mismanagement and loss of revenues, the Government wanted to be seen being correct, so made the wireless spectrum pricey by auction. The revenues so determined, would serve to increase the cost of communication services to customers. TRAI could recommend that this money is not collected or returned if already collected.
C. TRAI has not looked in the practices of Telecom companies concerning the bandwidth they offer to consumers in India which averages 1 Mbps of nominal connectivity, actually amounting to 256 Kbps of average connectivity which on the mobile phone streams at less than 56 kbps on 3G most of the time in most locations. This is way below the standards of a hundred other countries around the world, while the price charged per connection is almost on par with the rest of the world, TRAI could look into this.
D. One of the reasons why Telecom companies find it relatively less profitable to operate is that even the largest of the Telecom Companies have outsourced Network Management to overseas Telecom / Technology companies. TRAI could assist the Telecom companies in building up the required technical capabilities to manage Networks on their own.
E. International Mobile roaming pricing, both for Voice and Data, by Indian telecom companies is prohibitively expensive are extortionistic. TRAI could look into the reasons and assist the Telecom companies in rationalizing the pricing plans for International roaming.
F. TRAI could look for solutions for 100% connectivity across India with receptiveness.
Internet Society India Chennai