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Telcos Support Net Neutrality But Bat For ‘Sabka Internet’

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In a last ditch effort to showcase their solidarity for ‘Net Neutrality’ or equal treatment of all internet traffic while pushing their own initiative of ‘Sabka Internet, Sabka Vikas’, GSM operators like Airtel, Vodafone, Telenor, Videocon and Idea came together under the umbrella of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) on April 24, the last day for filing response to the telecom regulator’s consultation paper on net neutrality. Sabka Internet is an initiative by COAI to connect the unconnected 1 billion voice customers in India.
The GSM operators also urged the government to ensure that the same rules that apply to telcos for offering voice and data services should apply to voice over internet protocol and data services operators like WhatsApp, Skype, Viber among others.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has already reported to have received over one million emails in support of its consultation paper on Net Neutrality.
As part of the COAI umbrella, the telcos came armed with specific message for the government. COAI said it wanted the government to create an enabling and equal environment as without infrastructure and investment, there will be no internet access.
COAI said it wants the government to promote innovation to enable internet for all so that one billion voice customers get access to internet as opposed to only 200 million internet customers. Operators, in fact, termed the 85 million broadband consumer base as ‘elite’ and said it is these elite internet customers that are driving the misinformation campaign on Net Neutrality.
“The industry estimates the country would need an additional capital outlay of over Rs 500,000 crore over the next 10 years in spectrum, new technology, equipment, towers, optical fibre backbone, etc., to meet the PM’s vision of Digital India, and connect 1 billion Indians to internet. The need of the hour, therefore, is to have a sustainable industry that has the ability to invest in growth of data services and connectivity to all,” said Gopa Vittal, vice chairman of COAI and CEO of Airtel. 
Slamming some of the online and offline support to Net Neutrality as ‘misconception’ and ‘misinformation’ being spread, the COAI officials said: “It is a misconception that there will be two kinds of internet, paid and unpaid. Or that some websites will be faster than the others. The National Telecom Policy of 2012 talked about ‘broadband for all’ and we support it.”
Interacting with the reporters, Himanshu Kapania of Idea Cellular reiterated that it took industry 20 years and combined investments of Rs 750,000 crore to get 950 million voice customers. Taking a dig at over-the-top (OTT) players like Skype and WhatsApp who were providing a competing service using data, COAI officials said that government should ensure the same rules apply to same services to get internet access.

“We believe that our role is to enable all services to reach customers across the country. One of the key factors to enable this is that the same rules must apply to the same types of services, including Mobile and IP Voice services. This is the only way to ensure digital inclusion and bring about social and economic good to the common man,” said Kapania.