Call on Net fate today
New Delhi: Telecom regulator Trai is set to come out with its recommendations on Net neutrality on Tuesday, which are likely to impact the future of apps that provide calling and messaging services.
The development comes at a time Ajit Pai, an Indian-origin American and chairman of US telecom regulator Federal Communications Council (FCC), is set to dismantle former president Barack Obama's Net neutrality regime, arguing that it prevented fresh competition.
"We will be bringing out Net neutrality recommendations tomorrow. You will find answers regarding OTT (over-the-top), VoIP (internet-based calls)," Trai chairman R.S. Sharma said on Monday, according to a PTI report.
Under the Net neutrality principle, telecom service providers such as Bharti, Jio or Vodafone should treat all data on the internet as the same and not discriminate on the basis of user, content or website.
OTT players such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Viber benefit from the principle as the users of mobile phones and computers are being charged just for the data while they can access call, messaging and other services. This has resulted in the loss of revenue for telecom operators, who have demanded that same rules should apply for entities providing similar services.
Till now, India has upheld the Net neutrality principle. In 2014, an attempt by Bharti to charge higher rates for the use of Net-based voice-over internet applications such as Viber and Skype met with a backlash from consumers.
Last year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) barred telecom service providers from charging differential rates for data services, effectively prohibiting platforms such as Facebook's Internet.Org and Airtel Zero to allow free access to select websites.
"No service provider shall offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content," the regulator said in its Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016. It said the prohibition was necessary to keep the internet non-discriminatory.
However, since then the debate has reopened with telecom operators pushing for cost sharing with content providers, and internet companies resisting any move that can increase the cost of Net services.
The Trai's recommendations on Tuesday will come at a time there is a debate raging over Net neutrality globally.
Pai, who is US President Donald Trump's nominee as the FCC chief, believes Net neutrality actually is "heavy handed regulation" which stifles new competition from coming up.
Pai feels current rules treat internet service providers and telecom firms as utilities and allow Net-based firms to offer their services through them without paying any price to them. Such norms discourage investments that could provide even better and faster online access.