New Delhi, April 24:
On the last day of submission of suggestions on net neutrality to the telecom regulator, industry stakeholders on Friday said they supported free and fair access to internet but called for a “same services, same rule” regime for all categories of players.
“We’re pro-consumers. We don’t believe in blocking any site. We are committed to net neutrality,” Gopal Vittal, chief executive officer of Bharti Airtel, said at a media briefing by the chief of telecom companies, organised by the Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI).
The chief executives said the “same services, same rule” must apply for all players and not just the telecom operators. The levies they pay to the government, such as licence fee, should also be applicable to over-the-top players who offer, among other services, voice and text telephony.
In March, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released a paper inviting comments from stakeholders on how over-the-top services should be regulated in the country. It wanted the suggestions to be sent by April 24 and counter-arguments by May 8.
The National Internet Exchange of India (NIXI), as an impartial entity, said that it strongly supports net neutrality and feels that is the only way forward to make the internet open, free and innovative.
“Any move by telcos to bundle application or content selectively will hamper the very basic concept of internet,” NIXI said in a statement on Friday.
The leadership team of COAI present in Friday’s interaction included the representatives from Aircel, Airtel, Idea Cellular, Telenor, Videocon and Vodafone India.
Emphasising that the industry did not want “net for few” and that it believes in “net for all”, Himanshu Kapania of Aircel said the industry was not seeking new licences for new apps and OTT services, but warned that a free hand to them will impact future investments in the industry.
The telecom industry contributes 3.5 percent to India’s gross domestic product. It has cumulative investments of over Rs.750,000 crore made in the past 20 years. To make internet available, the industry needs to invest over Rs.500,000 crore in five years, the stakeholders said.
Network neutrality, or open inter-working, means that in accessing the World Wide Web, one is in full control over how to go online, where to go and what to do, as long as these are lawful. It calls for all lawful content on the internet to be treated in a neutral manner.
“Let the government decide the rules of the game,” said Vodafone’s Sunil Sood.
The COAI, which is essentially the GSM body in India, on Friday announced “Sabka Internet, Sabka Vikas” with a dedicated portal www.sabkainternet.in — an initiative to connect one billion unconnected citizens of India. The country has 86 million broadband customers. (IANS)