Start-up founders have written a joint letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), urging it to support the principles of net neutrality and caution against any move towards over regulation of internet services described as OTT or Over-The-Top services. The letter has been signed by more than 130 start-up founders including Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Zerodha’s Nithin Kamath, PhonePe’s Sameer Nigam, Jar’s Nishchay Babu, Razorpay’s Harshil Mathur, and Webveda’s Ankur Warikoo.
This is in response to suggestions by telecom service providers (TSPs) Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea (Vi) to bring these OTT services under the same regulatory framework as them. TSPs have also asked that OTTs should pay a fair charge to them for telecom network cost based on traffic generated and other parameters.
The suggestions by TSPs were in response to a consultation paper released by TRAI in July of this year– ‘Regulatory Mechanism for Over-The-Top (OTT) Communication Services, and Selective Banning of OTT Services’. TRAI has asked the industry stakeholders for their views on 14 questions related to the definition of OTT service, the mechanism to regulate them and the provisions.
Start-up founders to TRAI: Strengthen net neutrality principles
In their letter, start-up founders have called for the internet to be maintained as an open platform, urging TRAI to further strengthen the principles of net neutrality rather than dilute it.
The letter addressed to TRAI Chairman Mr. PD Vaghela and TRAI’s Advisor (Networks, Spectrum and Licensing) Mr. Akhilesh Kumar Trivedi said, “We want to make in India and build for the world. The precedence that such discriminatory practices will set will impact our prospects in India and abroad, and greatly harm the vision behind Digital India.”
It further added, “The demand to impose licensing and cost obligations on OTTs is directly at odds with the Government of India’s Startup India initiative. These initiatives aren’t complete without the support for Net Neutrality – a principle that assures telecom or internet service providers don’t discriminate for or against online apps and services, on the basis of availability, speed, or cost of access, leaving that choice to the end user alone.”
What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality as a concept means an open democratic internet and all data on the internet should be treated equally by service without any discrimination or charge differently by user, content, site, platform, or application. Simply put it means that till the time a user is paying for the data consumed by them, it shouldn’t matter how they are using that data. According to a report, without net neutrality, telcos can charge a user differently based on the bandwidth of platforms based on the data they consume.
Back in 2014, the debate on net neutrality in India took centre stage when Airtel came out with a new pricing policy wherein users were expected to pay extra while making VoIP calls through platforms like Skype. In 2016, TRAI ruled in favour of net neutrality, prohibiting TSPs to charge differently for services.
Vijay Shekhar Sharma, Founder and CEO, Paytm in a 2017 interview to ET Now said, “The internet shouldn’t be divided. It shouldn’t be of some companies. Internet should give opportunities to every incremental new company and old company equal opportunity…Just because you are influential on internet, you should not be able to dictate who else can come.”
What are start-up founders saying
Taking to X, Zerodha’s Nitin Kamath posted, “Recently, there have been talks of re-visiting the idea of net neutrality in India. We enjoy some of the strongest net neutrality rules in the world, ensuring a fair and level playing field for everyone to access and innovate on the internet, no matter how big and small. The exponential growth of our technology and startup ecosystem would not have been possible without this. Without net-neutrality, there perhaps would not have been a Zerodha. The destiny of our increasingly digital nation is tied to the internet remaining open, accessible, and neutral for everyone.”
Kiran Jonnalagadda, CEO, Hasgeek posted, “You may remember SaveTheInternet in 2015-16, when we asked @TRAI for #NetNeutrality and got it, ushering in an era of cheap mobile data and the vast majority of India coming online. Good things don’t last if we take them for granted, so here we go again…”
The letter to TRAI has also been signed by Dinesh Agarwal, Founder & CEO, IndiaMART, Anshoo Sharma, Co-founder & CEO, magicpin, Rohan Verma, CEO, MapmyIndia, Yashish Dahiya, Policy Bazaar Fintech, Shashank ND Singh, Founder & CEO, Practo, Rishikesh SR, Co-Founder, Rapido and Snehil Khanor, Co-Founder & CEO, TrulyMadly.