Tiered Network Access, A Vicious Regulatory Framework

Tiered Network Access, A Vicious Regulatory Framework

There are only a very few places left on earth where all people are treated equal irrespective of their nationality, race, creed, religion, gender or orientation, and one of amongst them ‘was’ internet. Recently, with the net neutrality losing its ground to cheap tactics of some greedy ISPs (Internet Service Provider), this one place will also be infested with people who discriminate based on allegiance (if, I can say so).

To give you a gist of what Net Neutrality is, it is an idea that all websites or network should be treated equal, or to put it in a more elaborate manner all data that is available online should be treated the same, irrespective of the user, content, geo-location, hosted party, device used etc.

For example, let’s consider our ISP to be the same, if I was accessing Linkedin and you were accessing Slideshare, net neutrality forbids our ISP from charging us differently for accessing different sites/portals.

However, this status quo was changed by the TSPs (Telecom Service Providers) when they started an all-out war against Over-the-Top (OTT) services.

Earlier and even now in most cases, the revenue models of the TSPs were more of voice dominated and less of data dominated. Post dotcom burst, with the exponential increase in data driven services, many OTT services leveraged the infrastructure of these TSPs to deliver their services. And this resulted in conflict of interests, because TSPs believe OTTs eats into their revenues, in reality that’s not the case. Most of the TSPs have seen a steady increase in data driven revenues with the advent of OTTs.

Airtel Zero

December last year, Airtel in India disclosed their intention to charge VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) (vis-à-vis Skype, viber etc.) services separately i.e. for every call that is made through any of these services, will be charged extra. But immediately after the public outcry, Airtel scrapped its intention to go with the proposed plan; however they made a defense statement on #airtelpledge,

“Airtel Zero is a technology platform that connects application providers to their customers for free. The platform allows any content or application provider to enroll on it so that their customers can visit these sites for free. Instead of charging customers we charge the providers who choose to get on to the platform.”

There are two scenarios that can arise from this,

  1. The affiliate providers will increase the price of whatever they are selling online, to cover the costs incurred by partnering with Airtel, eventually it’s the customer who has to bear the brunt.
  2. Hidden costs, which cannot be quantified arises.

And this would be probably how Airtel will react,

  • Airtel can repudiate the price factor and claim it’s up to the affiliate providers to show prudence. Well, this is true. Nevertheless, the result is an outcome of Airtel zero.
  • Airtel can always claim there are no charges for accessing affiliated partner data, how do you corroborate it? How can one quantify the bandwidth consumed on Airtel zero with the charges levied overall?

August first week, Airtel posted their earnings call. Their revenues rose by 40% beating the market estimates, with mobile data revenue increasing to 56.9% and overall usage up to 83%.

It is quite evident that OTTs have not eaten into their revenues; instead it’s their greed that is curbing our right to free digital world.


Facebook’s internet.org has construed the term Net Neutrality in public. Their claim is to provide free internet access to users who otherwise cannot access internet due to lack of resources.
Remember, this is not free access to all of the internet’s content but rather access to content/data from a few handpicked big boys from the business world who can pay for their data being hosted on internet.org

If Facebook, genuinely wanted to help the poor they should have setup the infrastructure that is needed to reach the masses, partner with the TSPs and reduce the tariffs on data plans, and provide all of the internet’s content for reduced cost on bandwidth used.

Reliance Communications (RCom) has launched internet.org in India for its subscribers. When a user logs in to internet.org site on RCom, they are given two tabs one with free services to 33 affiliate websites/portals. And Reliance tab where one can look at the data plans offered by Reliance. Facebook on RCom has provided a scaled down version of their service to fit into internet.org, and for downloading images – users have to by data plans from Reliance.

So ideally nothing is free.

The irony is that internet.org wants the poor (or people without access) to come online and use the elevating power of digital world. However, they do not grant the poor right to choose, the content is already chosen for them.

They call this “Zero Rating”… a sugar coated form of depravity…


Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has sought opinions from cellular operators lobby, NASSCOM and public in general on Net Neutrality, to decide on the future course of their action. Over 10lakh mails where sent by public in support of Net Neutrality and NASSCOM suggesting Net Neutrality has to be upheld to enable the start-up ecosystem of our country to flourish against the bullies.

However, the Department of Telecom has not come up with a decision and is still seeking comments/suggestions from public on Net Neutrality. The Government of India has decided to extend this deadline after seeing a surge in comments/suggestions that poured in.

All that one can hope for in this vicious circle of tug of war is, some sanity creeping into the government and its regulatory body.

If India truly stands for Freedom of Speech/ Freedom of Expression then the Government should prove it by giving us the Freedom of Un-Curbed Digital Accessibility.