CHENNAI: The Department of Telecom’s panel report on Net Neutrality started out well enough with a firm declaration that net neutrality should be adhered to. However, a few things that followed have got consumers and activists fuming - like the recommendation that local VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) calls be subject to regulation . “If this is the DoT’s comprehension of net neutrality, it is a very selective and flawed understanding,” complained V Bharadhwaj, IT professional and aspiring app developer. While the DoT panel has recommended that international VoIP calls be treated liberally, local VoIP calls, like the ones provided by Skype and Whatsapp, could be subject to regulation and licensing. Licensing that could well lead to VoIP providers charging their customers for these calls.
“That is unacceptable,” fumed Mihir K, Media student, “Why charge for local calls on these apps, when we are being charged through the internet package. We pay through the nose for the those anyway,” he said. The recommendation is being viewed by many as the DoT’s attempt to placate telecom majors.
“This seems to be a way to placate the demands of telecom companies who are worried that these calls will eat into their market and revenues. But if the panel recommends that international VoIP and OTT messaging services be liberally treated, why make the distinction only for local calls? It can only be placate these telecos,” said Bharadwaj. The point experts and activists are trying to make is that in the current state of affairs there is no such distinction between the three in mobile applications - VoIP (local and International) and messaging are treated equally. If the DoT’s recommendation becomes the norm, then the measures used to differentiate these could well lead to a breach of privacy.
The seeming flexibility adopted by DoT’s panel, a middle ground, is just bowing down to pressure from telecos, say consumers. Kiruba Shankar, internet entrepreneur, termed the move as ‘retrograde’. “This move seems a retrograde step in the quest for accessible internet to all. Theoretically, it would be like the postal department complaining about the advent of email and the need to charge per email as email have become important over time. It is a move that will not only affect us, but future generations as innovation in internet, apps and VoIP would be stamped out,” he said, adding, “ If they start charging for data usage, streaming videos and VoIP services, it will be like the proverbial ‘camel’s nose under the tent’ — a wrong precedent for accessible internet to all, penetration and innovation.”
However, the DoT panel’s recommendation is just that - a recommendation. Another vital panel report on net neutrality is awaited from the Telecom Regulation Authority of India (TRAI) and two will determine net neutrality policy for India in the coming days. But only after public consultation and the DoT inviting opinions on the report until August 15 through their website.