WhatsApp, Viber local calls may not remain free
Upholding the concept of net neutrality, a high level government committee recommended that users will not be able to make free domestic calls using WhatsApp, Skype and Viber. International calls and messaging will remain free. Also it suggested that zero-rating platforms be treated on a case-by-case basis. This move is being seen as favouring telecom operators and could adversely affect start-up culture in India.
Net neutrality is the principle by which internet service providers have to allow "access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites."
In August 2014, TRAI rejected a proposal from the telecom operators which wanted companies like WhatsApp and Skype to share their revenues with telecom operators. TRAI felt that the telcos were able to compensate for their losses through growth in their data revenues. TRAI substantiated this decision by claims that 1/3rd of incremental revenue for telcos was coming from data services.
'Airtel Zero' was targeted over net neutrality, thereby bringing the debate to the forefront. Airtel Zero allowed its users to access certain apps without any extra data charges. The data charges would be incurred by the developers of the app. It implied that the apps which would pay data charges would be given priority by Airtel, thus violating the principle of net neutrality.
Clarifying their stance on net neutrality, Airtel said "We are completely committed to net neutrality...We do not ever block, throttle or provide any differential speeds to any web site."
Thousands joined a public campaign online to seek 'equal access to the internet' and to support "net neutrality." Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) was sent petitions by people from all over India at a furious pace to "save the internet". As a direct consequence, Flipkart ended its discussion with Airtel Zero (it was supposed to join hands with them) and supported net-neutrality.
With one day left for the deadline set by TRAI, 9,94,230 e-mails have been sent in support of net neutrality. Every minute a record 50 e-mails were being received. A website called www.savetheinternet.in was set up for the users to copy the responses for TRAI's questions and mail it to TRAI. Rahul Gandhi asked the government to clarify their stand in terms of net-neutrality.
After the million mail support, the telecom department panel was asked to submit its report on Net Neutrality. A six member committee would pen the report and they would also invite comments from stake holders.
The report does not cover the search neutrality issues and does not address these while contending that it is an area of concern. The license regime of yester years is inappropriate for today's connected world and can stifle growth and consumer choice. The report's attempt to regulate the domestic voice service is being seen as a move to manage the concerns of telcos.