The 24 recommendations by the six-member committee of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) led by AK Bhargava on net neutrality in a 111-page report sticks to the knitting that telecom operators would need to follow the core principles of net neutrality. It clearly goes out to state that paid prioritisation of content would not be allowed. That’s going to hurt the zero rating plans that telecom operators had proposed to launch along with Facebook’s internet.org initiative.
Though not specifying what needs to be done, it wants international best practices of net neutrality to help in formulating an India-specific net neutrality approach. According to it, the primary policy should be to meet the developmental aims of the government including “Affordable Broadband,” “Quality Broadband”, and “Universal Broadband” for citizens.
In a hit to telecom operators, it is in support of messaging applications such as WhatsApp. It states that services dealing with messaging should not be interfered through regulatory instruments. That could be a hit to telcos who have seen messaging revenues slide as more people opt for messaging apps.
On the voice front, it has provided some leeway for telecom operators. It says users can opt for applications like WhatsApp, Viber and Skype to make international calls and messaging. However, in the case of domestic calls (both local and national) communication services offered by both telecom service providers and over the top (OTT) communication services may be treated similarly from a regulatory point of view for now. That’s important, since the international calling business has gradually moved from telecom operators to OTT services. In revenue terms, international voice calls contribute just 3.45% of the adjusted gross revenues (AGR) for the Indian telecom industry as of September 2014.
To keep track of the issues that could arise over disputes between telcos and OTT providers, a cell will be set up in the DoT headquarters to specifically deal with such cases. It does admit that enforcing net neutrality may throw up questions and problems. So, it plans to set up an oversight process to advise on policies and processes, review guidelines and auditing procedures and enforcement of rules.