Telcos' body COAI on Tuesday said the proposed 'fair share charge' does not affect access to an open and free internet, as it sought to debunk "misleading and speculative views being circulated by certain quarters" to allegedly "misguide" people.
The comments by COAI assume significance as the past months have seen the telecom operators and OTTs exchange fire over the telcos' demand that large traffic-generating apps must dish out part of the revenue (fair share charge) for sustenance and upkeep of communications networks.
Firing a fresh salvo in an escalating war of words, the Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI) alleged that all concerns being raised -- including favouring one website or application, and pricing differentiation -- are devoid of facts and are speculative scenarios designed to mislead the public.
Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea are members of COAI.
"There is no violation of net neutrality if a peering charge is applied at an interconnection point between two networks to compensate for an imbalance of data traffic," COAI Director General SP Kochhar said in a statement.
COAI argued that the European Commission has also agreed that fair share does not violate the open internet and net neutrality principles.
"There are some misleading and speculative views being circulated by certain quarters, with an intention to misguide and confuse the people regarding the proposal of ‘Fair-Share’ contribution to be paid by Large Traffic Generators (LTGs) responsible for generating over 70 per cent of the total internet traffic, using the networks of the TSPs to deliver their services, but making no contribution to TSPs for the development, upkeep and sustenance of robust and quality telecom networks across the country...," the statement said.
The upkeep and sustenance, explained COAI, are required for catering to the huge traffic being loaded on the networks and the steadily growing data demands.
"These entities, by alleging a ‘supposed’ threat to Net Neutrality, are attempting to mislead a public debate on a complicated issue, without substantiating how Fair Share would violate net neutrality or hamper innovation," COAI said.
In reality, net neutrality has nothing to do with the 'fair share' initiative, it contended.
"In fact, all of the concerns being raised – such as favouring one website/application/service, pricing differentiation etc. – are devoid of facts and are speculative scenarios designed to mislead the public," COAI said.
The association said it is fully cognizant that all OTTs are not equal. Large Traffic Generators (LTGs) are only a handful of companies that generate disproportionately high traffic.
The proposal for providing exemptions to startups, MSMEs and small enterprises within the OTT ecosystem from payment of fair share charges not only establishes a supportive framework for nurturing startups but also ensures that smaller players enjoy the advantages of improved network quality.
"The Indian telcos are bound by their license conditions to ensure Net Neutrality and will continue to do so. COAI affirms that the proposed fair share charge does not affect access to an open and free Internet," the telcos' body said.
The content and services for consumers would remain fully accessible with no traffic management or differentiation.
"Further, there will be no throttling, no blocking and no paid prioritisation for any service/application. The price for the traffic paid by end users will not change depending on whether the traffic generator is subject to fair share payments or not," the telcos' association said.
The objective of net neutrality is to ensure unfettered access to the internet for end-users, but this objective is undermined by the lack of investment capacity on the part of TSPs, as per COAI.
"An obligation to negotiate with operators on a uniform, fair and adequate contribution would actually help alleviate this challenge. Fair Share approach would incentivise a more efficient handling of data without impairing customer experience," according to the association.
COAI noted the argument that OTTs do not generate traffic, rather it is the end users' demand that leads to traffic "is a flawed argument since the network is equally used by the OTTs to deliver their services".
"Further, OTTs decide, without user control and knowledge, the traffic volumes delivered as well as on compression techniques, that is, transmitting in standard definition, high definition or ultra-high definition and how to proceed in case of network congestion by reducing the quality of the streaming," COAI said.
Moreover, features such as auto-play, continuous-play or advertising are also not requested by end users but automatically provisioned in these services, which results in significant traffic volumes, COAI argued.