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Kaustubh Katdare
Kaustubh Katdare • Jul 24, 2015

Net Neutrality Update: Pay For WhatsApp Calls But Not Messages?

We've an interesting development on the net neutrality issue in India. The Department of Telecommunications aka DoT had formed a panel to look into the issue. BBC reports that the panel has released a report titled Net Neutrality Dot Committee Report (PDF) and has invited comments on the same. Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director with the Center has decoded the report and what it means for Indians. Here's what you need to know.

The first point to understand that the OTT (over the top) communication services in India a la WhatsApp, Line, Viber, Skype do not have to comply with the regulations that are typically applicable to non-Internet based communications viz. telephone calls. Current laws do not require OTT service providers to have a license to operate in India. This means, these services do not have to abide by the anti-spam, DnD rules or revenue share with Government. The report says that these services should be bought under the licensing scheme.

WhatsApp-Call-Net-Neutrality-India ​

The panel studied the nature of the services and distinguished between VoIP calls and internet messaging. It also distinguished between the local vs. international voice calls over the Internet. The report does NOT mention the basis on which these distinctions were made. It may mean that the Government might decide on charging the VoIP calls but not for the messages. In simple words, you might have to pay for the WhatsApp calls, but not the messages that you send through it.

Please note that the Government is yet to arrive at a final decision regarding the issue of net neutrality. Also be informed that contrary to the reports in leading publications, the DoT panel has NOT recommended increasing the costs of local VoIP calls. Also the DoT panel has not given a green signal to zero-rating.

We now look forward to what stand does the Government take. The report published is awaiting your comments and if you have a view, let the Government know.
Kaustubh Katdare
Kaustubh Katdare • Jul 24, 2015
For the sake of debate here's something to consider:-

At present, a rich smartphone owner can make domestic calls over VoiP (via WhatsApp, Viber, Line, WeChat etc.) at far cheaper rates than a relatively poor person who does not have a smartphone and has to rely on traditional calls, which are dearer. This negates the concept of Net Equality - everyone should have the rights to similar services.
optimystix • Jul 24, 2015
I see it differently though. In my opinion, net equality does not mean providing every individual a smartphone and a net connection so that they may enjoy similar services.

Rather, it should mean that the services should be similar and not charged or controlled arbitrarily for people who are on the same platform (here - people with smartphones and internet connection).

As per the current rates, even a rich person with a smartphone has to pay a considerable amount for 3G data and broadband connection, so there is a trade-off eventually.

What the government is trying to do is wrong. Govt. tells us that they earned a huge sum from the spectrum licensing fees but eventually the companies are going to come back and recover those costs from us.

The previous Govt. may have been involved in scams and whatever by charging low fees from the telecom operators but that made it possible for the operators to pass on that benefit to the people. Data/sms/call charges were at all time low then. Prices for the same has risen drastically over past year and now they want us to pay more for services not under their ambit.

Next, the respected Govt. would tax us for breathing the air and using sun light as well since we live and use them in the country governed by them.
Anoop Kumar
Anoop Kumar • Jul 25, 2015
Let me understand something.. When mobile internet was slow no one cared about regulating VoIP while Skype/Google Talk were exit (I think even before 2005).
Now, mobile companies have to increase internet speed because of global competition which is inherently cheaper VoIP in internet pack.
Now the mobile companies pocket is leaking and they pressurizing govt to regulate VoiP.
Govt. with motive to charging VoIP is utter nonsence.
For the simple reason, I will paying for Internet and additionally will pay for VoIP 😲, How it is justified for the term "Net Neutrality".
What about Wifi/broadband - Are they going to charge VoIP on that tooβ˜•.

Zero internet pack is somehow fine, if two companies are favoring each other. It's their business but regulating VoIP is total nonsense. πŸ‘ŽπŸ‘Ž
When I was over at Singapore for a trip, I found a SIM card package that had unlimited data for WhatsApp. However, this data was not valid for Whatsapp VoIP calls.

From a technical perspective, though its not impossible to segregate IMs & VoIP WhatsApp data, it is still expensive if you are looking at DPI methods. Its most likely that the Mobile provides have agreements in place with WhatsApp which would allow for easy segregation from a protocol point of view, and is purely a business decision rather than a government regulatory one.

On that note, it should be left up to competition whether mobile operations want to cap VoIP calls or not. It is fair this way to both consumers and businesses. If government regulations come in, it would either favor just consumers, or just businesses.

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