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Indian telcos walking backwards?

columns Updated: Aug 10, 2014 23:34 IST
N Madhavan

Indian telcos walking backwards?

The way bandwidth is growing and predicted to grow further thanks to newer technologies, fibre optic deployment and more efficient use of airwaves, the focus is increasingly on content — or ought to be. Content can mean anything from songs, videos and messages to software applications.

It is not for nothing that Al Gore called the Internet as the “information superhighway”.

Now, what happens if someone wants to convert the highway into a toll system where every car passes by pays a fee? In a similar move, India’s telecom operators want discussions with the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India so they could charge companies like Facebook-owned WhatsApp, Microsoft-owned Skype and other messenger services like Hike.

The telcos are upset because these messaging or Internet-based call services are taking away their easy revenues from SMSs or even international voice calls.

Their demand is regressive – a bit like taxi drivers protesting against a cheaper metro service. The truth is that the government offered cheap spectrum to telcos and also limited the number of players in the early years. These have given them a headstart.

The telcos’ position to seek charges for specific applications goes against the principle of “Net Neutrality” that prescribes that the resources of the Internet must be easily accessible to all individuals and companies and there is no discrimination on the basis of user, content, site, platform or application.

The future of telcos lies in value-added services and technology-based innovations – not in seeking gatekeeper rent over current spectrum.