Nasscom for net neutrality, level-playing field

New Delhi: Advocating net neutrality and level-playing field for start-ups, the Indian IT industry’s representative body Nasscom on Wednesday proposed a synergistic model for internet platforms, applications and telecom service providers.

“Net neutrality creates an open and level-playing field to facilitate innovation, adoption and inclusion,” Nasscom president R. Chandrashekhar said, sharing its response to the TRAI consultative paper on regulatory framework for over-the-top (OTT) services.

Noting that internet, mobile telephony, social media, big data, analytics, cloud and Internet of Things (IoT) have created a perfect confluence for economic development, the former telecom secretary said the start-up and innovation eco-system and the government’s Digital India initiative would transform social and economic spheres, including education, healthcare and financial inclusion.

“As the essential building blocks of the digital revolution are not contradictory and can be synergised, we have advocated a forward looking definition of net neutrality to achieve the objectives,” Chandrashekhar said.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released a paper in March inviting comments from users and firms on how OTT services should be regulated in the country and sought suggestions from stakeholders by April 24 and counter-arguments by May 8.

In net neutrality, governments and internet service providers treat data on the internet equally and do not charge users, content, platform, site, application or mode of communication differentially for the benefit of end-customers.

“Any stifling regulation restricting access to internet or internet platforms and services will not only hamper the country’s socio-economic development, but also suppress growth and success of innovation driven start-ups and small and medium enterprises,” National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom) internet council chair Sanjeev Bhikchandani said on the occasion.

The emergence of the internet, resultant data revolution and the advent of a host of application service providers has disrupted equilibria and business models in several sectors, including telecom and IT.

“It is essential to synergise adoption of internet platforms and innovation driven models with growth of telecom infrastructure. This will lead to a cycle of growth, where sustained rise in revenues from data consumption is spurred and driven by the internet platforms and OTT services,” Chandrashekhar added.

As mobile penetration approaches saturation level, voice traffic will plateau and rising data traffic will be the driver of demand for more telecom infrastructure.

“Issues in the TRAI paper arise from the revenue streams of TSPs, which are heavily voice dependent while demand for infrastructure is driven by rising data usage. A revenue stream calibrated to the demand/consumption of data is the way forward to ensure the demand driver and revenue generator are aligned,” Nasscom said in its response to the TRAI paper.

The industry body also stressed on the need to understand the guiding principles of net neutrality, which is about unfettered user right of making an informed choice in deciding access to legal content/services on the internet.

“We believe that users’ right to choose will be compromised when regulations fail to proscribe price and non-price based discrimination by TSPs. The downstream impact is needless data demand curtailment,” Nasscom noted.

The industry body also suggested that universal principles of net neutrality, access for all and leveraging internet for development growth should be upheld.

“There should be no roadblocks to rapid adoption of ICT enabled models and innovation that are expected to drive the digital revolution in the country.”

No rights or discretion to TSPs to censor or block legal content; to throttle lawful internet traffic; determine how users use internet in the form of “normal net management or commercial practices”.

Telecom service providers should not indulge in double dipping (charging) for data from both consumer and application/platform provider.

“It is important to dispel the myth that internet platforms and OTT services are not regulated. The Information Technology Act and its rules pertaining to intermediaries and interception are applicable to them, as also the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and the Indian Penal Code,” Chandrashekhar added.

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