TRAI


Because of the TRAI decision outlawing zero rating, various workarounds were developed. With Mozilla funding, LIRNEasia conducted research on how they were being used in the New Delhi area. Yesterday’s Indian Express carried a story:  
This is getting to be boring. Every few years, decision makers at TRAI and DoT float balloons about reducing the USO levy. We write commending it. Nothing happens. Another official said that besides increasing the payment tenure, the 5% levy towards Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) could also be reduced, more so as it would bring down the licence fee component for telcos without impacting the government’s revenues.
Helani Galpaya was the lead for LIRNEasia on the major policy/regulatory issue recently decided against Facebook’s Free Basics by TRAI. In her reaction piece in the Council on Foreign Relations blog, she has some interesting comments on the role played by evidence in the debate: But for many, this “Free Basics as an on-ramp to the Internet” argument wasn’t enough to mitigate the perceived danger that users (particularly the poor, who have never used the Internet) might think Facebook is the Internet and never venture outside Facebook’s walled garden. It seemed that no amount of evidence could convince them. It turns out that the poor are using the text-only version of Facebook on Free Basics to save money by using it as a substitute for voice and SMS communication, like many African countries, and therefore saving money. Detractors also didn’t seem convinced that merely using Facebook could increase democratic participation as in Myanmar, where whole campaigns were conducted on Facebook, or allow people to exercise their right to freedom of assembly.
OTTs and telcos really need to come up with better names to differentiate their products and services.  Really.  Or maybe confusion is just the point. First there was Free Basics, Facebook’s service which gives free access to a set of applications inside the app (it was previously called Internet.org, a supposedly clever name which of course was used by Facebooks critics point out the fact that it wasn’t really the “Internet”, but again, perhaps that was the point).
It has been a long time coming, but finally the universal service contribution as a percentage of adjusted gross revenue (AGR) looks certain to be reduced from five percent to three percent. The last time we wrote about this was in 2009, when the Finance Ministry stopped it. But, of course, nothing is ever so simple. At the same time TDSAT has brought a whole lot of new revenue elements within the definition of AGR. That will get appealed and so on.
Low connectivity and low regulatory capacity are characteristics of most emerging Asian countries.  Any NN regulation needs to take these realities into account.  So when we looked at the possible ways TRAI can and should act, we ended somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Read our response here.
Just a few days ago, the big data team posted some thoughts on how TRAI could analyze the one million plus comments it received in response to its consultation paper on OTT services. The Business Standard has extensively quoted from that collectively authored suggestions on how technology could help productively mobilize the flood of citizen ideas enabled by technology. Last year, the corporate affairs ministry had commissioned a platform to receive responses on the hundreds of sections and sub-sections of the Companies Act. The platform, built by Corporate Professionals, allowed section-wise responses; it classified responses under different heads such as drafting errors and conceptual issues. Further, separate log-in ids were provided for different sections of stakeholders.
The news reports suggest that TRAI has already received nearly 1 million submissions to its recent “Consultation Paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services” that has sparked a heated debate on net neutrality. In addition to drafting a response ourselves, we also turned our attention to the problem of analyzing such a large volume of responses. Significant amount of time and effort would be required to read and interpret, as well to even formulate a basic general outline of what the public and other stakeholders are trying to say. To put it mildly, TRAI is going to have its work cut out if they are to give each response due justice. Current and former researchers from our big data team, Kaushalya Madhawa, Danaja Maldeniya, and Nisansa de Silva brainstormed a technology augmented approach to the problem of analyzing the responses.
As LIRNEasia Senior Research Fellow, Payal Malik has made significant contributions to Indian telecom policy and regulation over the years. She also brings to bear a unique perspective because of her experience in implementing competition law. Going beyond the emotive, she has co-authored a thoughtful op-ed that all who engage in the net neutrality debate in India should pay attention to. India’s antitrust regime empowers the Competition Commission of India to block business activities that harm consumer welfare, restrict consumer choice or deny market access. Such enforcement with a precise enforcement mandate, exclusively targeting objectionable activities, while leaving other pro-competitive conduct that benefits consumers unregulated.
A public consultation, invited by TRAI, on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services has encountered furious netzines’ barrage in India. Comedy superstars of All India Bakchod (AIB) have produced a 9-minute video that brilliantly explains why net neutrality should be defended. It has also detected conspicuously bad elements in TRAI’s consultation document. The video ends with a link to savetheinternet.in that has a pre-written response to the 20 questions in the TRAI consultation paper.
India’s regulator has launched a public consultation on – “Delivering Broadband Quickly: What do we need to do?” TRAI has identified many bottlenecks across the broadband supply chain in India. It is, however, mute on the duopoly of Tata and Bharti over the submarine cable landing stations. TRAI underscores the rationalization of right-of-way. It should have revealed that some states charge as high as INR 1.
Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has decided not to regulate over-the-top (OTT) providers, such as Skype, Viber and WhatsApp. The mobile operators claim that such apps will annually cost them  over US$822 million in lost revenues, as subscribers prefer to use free voice and messaging apps. Therefore, they demanded to regulate the OTT providers either for a revenue sharing scheme or a fee system. The TRAI, however, believes that mobile operators recover their losses through growth in data revenues. As a result, the regulator has decided not to take any action against the OTT providers.
In the academic world, they count publications to measure effort. Then they count citations to measure effectiveness. There is no habit of citing research in government. But we got lucky. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) had commissioned the National Council for Applied Economic Research (NCAER) to work up a Decadel Report.
India’s Telecom Commission, composed of civil servants, is pushing for higher reserve prices of mobile phone spectrum. Their recommendation for 1800 MHz and 900 MHz prices are respectively 15% and 25% higher than what the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has suggested for auction. India plans to conduct its next mobile phone spectrum auction in January 2014 to fork out estimated 110 billion rupees. In September the TRAI has suggested to slash the auction reserve prices up to 65% after most of the operators have stayed away from bidding in the previous two auctions due to high reserve price. The Telecom Commission has, however, suggested to increase the spectrum prices by sweetening with attractive mergers allowance of a combined market share of up to 50% instead of the current 35% cap.
For those who doubted our narrative that the future of Internet access in our parts is wireless, here is the proof. It’s not that fixed broadband is not growing (year-on-year is 9 percent), but that wireless is growing faster. There are 15 million fixed broadband subscribers v 143 million connecting over wireless platforms. TRAI’s quarterly performance report.
India’s Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) has strongly recommended amending the law and making Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) truly effective. It observes that ‘once TRAI forwards its recommendations, the government is at liberty to accept, reject or keep it pending, without citing any tangible reason.’ The JPC found that many TRAI recommendations were ignored by the government for a long time and in some cases the government’s decision was not even communicated to the regulator. In the opinion of the committee, an independent regulator cannot be effective if its recommendations are to be left entirely at the mercy of the government. Therefore, the committee are of the unequivocal view that government should decisively respond to the recommendations of TRAI within a (time frame) as it is currently mandatory for TRAI to respond to a reference by the government within 60 days.