State-run MTNL has said Bharti Airtel’s ‘zero rating plan’ and RCom’s ‘Internet.org’ scheme defeat the basic concept of net neutrality and such pacts should not be allowed as they affect economic interests of small telecom operators.
“In Airtel ‘zero rating plan’ and Reliance ‘Internet.org’ these operators have directly negotiated with the application providers. MTNL is of the view that in any case, direct negotiations between OTT players and TSPs should not be allowed,” the telecom operator said in its counter comments submitted to sectoral regulator TRAI.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on March 27 came out with a consultation paper on over-the-top (OTT) players such as WhatsApp and Skype with April 24 and May 8 as the last dates for submission of comments and counter comments, respectively. The regulator received over 10 lakh comments from various telecom firms, associations and individuals while the number of counter-comments stood at 42.
TRAI, which is examining the comments, is yet to give its final recommendations on the Net Neutrality.
MTNL in its comments said that if direct negotiations are allowed, regional operators not being in position to negotiate with established over-the-top (OTT) players may result in denial of access to such OTT services to their subscribers or the users have to pay a higher cost. “In any of the cases, the basic concept of net neutrality i.e. ‘No discrimination/favour for any specific OTT service/s in terms of cost and access to subscribers’ will be defeated,” MTNL said.
The operator, which offers services in Delhi and Mumbai, said if direct negotiations are allowed, economic interests of small regional operators, restricted with limited licensed service area will be badly affected. “The small operators having limited operating presence and subscriber base, will not have bargaining power to negotiate with OTT service providers, as compared to large players having wider geographical presence of operations,” MTNL said.
The operator said situation may not provide an equitable opportunity to all players and will lead to exploitation of small regional operators by OTT service providers and large telcos. MTNL, however, suggested a revenue share model with OTT service providers, to compensate infrastructure cost, spectrum fee, license fee and other corporate taxes borne by telcos.
“The terms/quantum for such revenue sharing arrangement should be decided by the regulator (in absolute terms and not ceilings) and should not be left to negotiations between TSPs and OTT service providers,” MTNL added.
Telecom operators including Airtel, Vodafone, RCom as well as associations such as COAI have proposed to bring OTT communications services under a licencing regime. The telecom operators also said they should be allowed to offer services based on mutual agreements with the OTT players. Internet service providers though said that bringing OTT players under a licensing regime will result in “negative unforeseen consequences” for technology start-ups and ecosystem.
A major public uproar was witnessed recently, especially on social media, alleging violation of net neutrality principle by platforms like Airtel Zero and Internet.org, where Facebook has partnered with Reliance Communications in India.