by Glyn Moody

Filed Under:
india, net neutrality, open internet

bharti airtel, skype

Net Neutrality Under Threat In India

from the just-the-start dept

We recently reported on extraordinarily wide-ranging censorship imposed on Internet users in India. That's rather obscured another story that's been playing out there: an attempt to undermine net neutrality in the country. Here's how it began (via Slashdot):
Bharti Airtel Ltd, India's largest telecommunications carrier by subscribers, will soon start charging users extra money for using services such as Skype as Indian operators look to boost their data network and revenues.

According to the company website, internet or data plans that give customers discounted rates will only be valid for internet browsing and will exclude Voice over IP services (VoIP).

VoIP services include those such as Skype, Line and Viber that typically let users make free calls through the internet.
That's a clear attack on the principle that all IP packets should be treated equally, and prompted the creation of the site Net Neutrality India to raise awareness of what's at stake, as well as vague promises from the Indian government to "look into it." Shortly afterwards, Airtel took the hint that its move was not going down well, reported here by Medianama:
Bharti Airtel has issued a statement that it is withdrawing the launch of its VoIP packs, given that the TRAI [Telecom Regulatory Authority of India] has issued a statement that it will issue a consultation paper on issues relating to “services offered by OTT [Over-The-Top] players including VOIP."
Here's part of Airtel's statement:
We have no doubt that as a result of the consultation process a balanced outcome would emerge that would not only protect the interests of all stakeholders and viability of this important sector but would also encourage much needed investments in spectrum and roll out of data networks to fulfil the objective of digital India.
That's a standard position for telecom operators around the world, which claim that killing net neutrality is necessary to "encourage much needed investments" -- as if companies wouldn't invest in their networks anyway. Unfortunately, Airtel's optimism that TRAI will bless its anti-net neutrality moves is echoed by the Net Neutrality India site, which warns:
Though Airtel backed off, we should not forget that TRAI looks pro-operator. Regarding Airtel, they simply said that it violates net neutrality but is not illegal.

We need solid regulations for this. TRAI will start the consultation soon about the issue.
Clearly, the battle for net neutrality in India is about to begin in earnest.

Follow me @glynmoody on Twitter or, and +glynmoody on Google+

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