net neutrality

Why the telecom regulator's plan to make you pay for Whatsapp is bad in theory and practice

Services like Whatsapp are not eating into their revenues. Yet.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has begun to test the ground on the so-called net neutrality debate, which centres around whether internet service providers should be allowed to charge customers differential rates for using applications and web services.

At a seminar held by the TRAI earlier this week, telecommunication companies openly asked firm providing so-called Over The Top services to pay them if they want mobile-phone users to be able to access them. Over The Top services, such as Whatsapp and Viber provide audio and video data over the internet, often replace traditional telecom company services such as messaging and voice.

Cell-phone operators contend that they need to charge app companies a service fee to maintain the service levels mandated by the TRAI. But this is difficult to do when several customers access a network at the same time, said Rajan Mathew, director general of the Cellular Operations Association of India, a telecom company lobbying organisation.

If, for instance, a Facebook video goes viral, and several mobile phone users rush to access it, the website will slow down. On the other hand, if Facebook were to pay the telecom company for an extra server, users would be able to maintain steady access.

“We don’t want mandatory [revenue] sharing,” said Mathew. “This should be left to operators to negotiate. We are asking the regulator to look at this matter and determine what type of regulatory environment should be appropriate.”

Resistance app firms

As is to be expected, those who run application companies stoutly resist the idea that their services should face regulation.

“It is not done anywhere in world,” said Vijay Shekhar Sharma, CEO of One97, a company best known for its Paytm online wallet application. “This is anti-business and a very short-sighted thought.”

The TRAI, he said, should get involved only to ensure that no telecom operator throttles an Over The Top application.

But the real source for the telecom industry’s concerns should actually be TRAI and not application manufacturers.

According to an industry official who did not wish to be named, telecom companies have been losing revenues from their messaging services since 2012, when the TRAI put a cap on the number of messages a single SIM card could send. This solved customers’ problem of unsolicited spam messages, but it also meant a dip in messaging revenues for telecom companies. Despite this, the overall revenues of telecom companies have risen since then.

This was because messaging never formed a large part of service revenues. The largest source of income for telecom companies has always been voice services. Even though voice service replacement applications of the kind offered by Viber and Skype are now available, the prohibitively high cost of data usage on mobile devices deters users.

Loose precedents exist

It isn’t as if Over The Top application firms have not made payments to telecom firms before. Some have done so to ensure that service providers prioritise their services. Bharti Airtel, for instance, closed a deal with Whatsapp in May by which users could pay a nominal monthly amount to access only that application. They would need to subscribe to an independent data package to access other online resources.

But the crucial difference with deals such as this is that users still have the option of accessing other applications at the same speeds and rates as they used to, regardless of whether an application company has paid a telecom company to provide superior access.

“When telcos and OTTs want to jointly promote [their services], it is a business deal between two parties,” wrote Shekhar. “[There is] nothing to regulate and nothing to take as business precedent either.”

According to the industry official, TRAI representatives at the seminar that they were simply seeking opinions. They have, however, noted the question of how Over The Top applications might hurt telecom company revenues in a public consultation paper released on July 31. These papers, published on the TRAI website, are the basis on which the regulator decides to implement new rules. For now, this seminar will only mean something if the TRAI calls for a consultation paper to examine the net neutrality debate further.

Support our journalism by subscribing to Scroll+ here. We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

Following a mountaineer as he reaches the summit of Mount Everest

Accounts from Vikas Dimri’s second attempt reveal the immense fortitude and strength needed to summit the Everest.

Vikas Dimri made a huge attempt last year to climb the Mount Everest. Fate had other plans. Thwarted by unfavourable weather at the last minute, he came so close and yet not close enough to say he was at the top. But that did not deter him. Vikas is back on the Everest trail now, and this time he’s sharing his experiences at every leg of the journey.

The Everest journey began from the Lukla airport, known for its dicey landing conditions. It reminded him of the failed expedition, but he still moved on to Namche Bazaar - the staging point for Everest expeditions - with a positive mind. Vikas let the wisdom of the mountains guide him as he battled doubt and memories of the previous expedition. In his words, the Everest taught him that, “To conquer our personal Everest, we need to drop all our unnecessary baggage, be it physical or mental or even emotional”.

Vikas used a ‘descent for ascent’ approach to acclimatise. In this approach, mountaineers gain altitude during the day, but descend to catch some sleep. Acclimatising to such high altitudes is crucial as the lack of adequate oxygen can cause dizziness, nausea, headache and even muscle death. As Vikas prepared to scale the riskiest part of the climb - the unstable and continuously melting Khumbhu ice fall - he pondered over his journey so far.

His brother’s diagnosis of a heart condition in his youth was a wakeup call for the rather sedentary Vikas, and that is when he started focusing on his health more. For the first time in his life, he began to appreciate the power of nutrition and experimented with different diets and supplements for their health benefits. His quest for better health also motivated him to take up hiking, marathon running, squash and, eventually, a summit of the Everest.

Back in the Himalayas, after a string of sleepless nights, Vikas and his team ascended to Camp 2 (6,500m) as planned, and then descended to Base Camp for the basic luxuries - hot shower, hot lunch and essential supplements. Back up at Camp 2, the weather played spoiler again as a jet stream - a fast-flowing, narrow air current - moved right over the mountain. Wisdom from the mountains helped Vikas maintain perspective as they were required to descend 15km to Pheriche Valley. He accepted that “strength lies not merely in chasing the big dream, but also in...accepting that things could go wrong.”

At Camp 4 (8,000m), famously known as the death zone, Vikas caught a clear glimpse of the summit – his dream standing rather tall in front of him.

It was the 18th of May 2018 and Vikas finally reached the top. The top of his Everest…the top of Mount Everest!

Watch the video below to see actual moments from Vikas’ climb.

Play

Vikas credits his strength to dedication, exercise and a healthy diet. He credits dietary supplements for helping him sustain himself in the inhuman conditions on Mount Everest. On heights like these where the oxygen supply drops to 1/3rd the levels on the ground, the body requires 3 times the regular blood volume to pump the requisite amount of oxygen. He, thus, doesn’t embark on an expedition without double checking his supplements and uses Livogen as an aid to maintain adequate amounts of iron in his blood.

Livogen is proud to have supported Vikas Dimri on his ambitious quest and salutes his spirit. To read more about the benefits of iron, see here. To read Vikas Dimri’s account of his expedition, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Livogen and not by the Scroll editorial team.