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What the one million voices said to Trai

While most of the petitions merely touch on net neutrality, the issue of a level-playing field for telcos and voice over Internet has been scantily discussed

Anita Babu & Surabhi Agarwal  |  Bengaluru/New Delhi 

Net neutrality

A random analysis of the one million petitions that the telecom regulator has received from individual users shows that a significant chunk of the people have been heavily influenced by the 'Save the Internet' campaign and have just signed the preset petition drafted by them. While just a handful of others have taken the pains to answer the twenty odd questions posted by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), others are plain simple innocuous.

The text of the Save the Internet said: "If telecom operators can discriminate internet traffic on the basis of which services pay the most, we are allowing telcos control over a vital and necessary technological resource. By doing so we allow them to define what information we can view; what entertainment we can access; and how companies can innovate... I'm asking for a framework to ensure long term and fair access for all services regardless of size."

Most of the individual responses are variants of this petition which suggests that most users have voiced their opinion only on one part of the debate which dealt majorly with zero rating websites and models such as Airtel's Zero and Facebook promoted Internet.org. One of the major issue of telecom operators demanding a level-playing field since Internet based companies are cannibalising on voice revenues seems to have not understood by users in great detail and therefore escaped mention in their responses.

Even though the move by TRAI to put online the email addresses of all the individual users who submitted their comments on the issue of net neutrality has put the telecom regulator at the receiving end of strong criticism, the consultation nevertheless has become of the largest so far in terms of public participation.

Some respondents have sent one-liner responses to TRAI.

For example, a response by Devendra Pandya read, "I disagree with new mobile app charges." Another one by Devichand Chandak said, "This is wrong we have already paying net charge for this social sites so why we should have to pay this... its wrong."

A few of them were even blank mails with a subject line that said, "We want neutral net".

However, a few users seem to have taken the pains to go through the issue at length and have written detailed answers to the 20 questions in the consultation paper sent out by TRAI. For instance, one of the responses by Gaurav Vora describes the reason why users prefer alternate messaging platforms and voice-based services to the SMSes and calls. "With that said, it is also worth noting that some of these services actually offer the user a better experience either in terms of the features offered, or in terms of the reliability. On days of festivals, not only do customers have to pay a premium for their text messages, these messages still don't reach their recipients for hours - is it a surprise customers prefer WhatsApp?" (sic), questions an individual mail.

On the issue of charging Over the Top players like app-based services, a response said: "By asking these companies to pay an "access fee", you stifle Indian innovation and stifle value creation in India. If an access fee was required to be online in India, you would have no MakeMyTrip, no Zomato and no Flipkart, and none of the value that these companies are creating in India... If telcos are having difficulty in balancing their books - and that is a separate debate - let them raise tariff for all Internet traffic equally and see how the market reacts. Could such options include prices based on bandwidth consumption? No, since customer is already paying more for that bandwidth!" (sic).

Some of the respondents have even raised concerns over the steep increase in Internet charges of telecom service providers over the past few years to validate the point that the issue is over-hyped.

First Published: Wed, April 29 2015. 20:06 IST
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