No Surprise, Telecom Operators Back Differential Pricing for Data Services

No Surprise, Telecom Operators Back Differential Pricing for Data Services

Telecom operators have supported differential pricing for data usage for accessing different websites, applications or platforms as they feel it is critical for promoting innovation in the Internet eco-system and bringing more people online.

In a joint representation submitted to telecom regulator Trai through industry bodies COAI and AUSPI, operators have said differential pricing schemes should be non-discriminatory.

In its submissions to Trai, the industry bodies in a joint letter said, “For the growth of data service, price differentiation for data services can be allowed.”

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has received around 24 lakh comments on its consultation paper on differential pricing for data services, a key aspect of net neutrality.

A debate on net neutrality stirred across the country after Airtel decided to charge separately for Internet-based calls but withdrew it later after people protested. The debate heated up after Airtellaunched free Internet platform Airtel Zero and later Facebook also launched its Internet.org platform,renamed as Free Basics.

“We firmly believe that the differential pricing is critical for promoting innovation in the Internet eco-system, bringing more people online and for greater digital equality, digital economy, digital infrastructure, digital empowerment and promoting government and services on demand,” operators have submitted.

They said differential pricing is also essential for promoting the vision of ‘Make in India’ where getting small manufacturers on to supply chain of e-commerce players will need significant innovation in pricing and access.

The bodies said telecom operators are already offering differential tariffs for various voice and SMS components, such as local call, STD call, ISD call, roaming call, on and off net call, day and night call.

“Such differential tariffs for voice have only enhanced the affordability of telecom services in India. On the contrary, a uniform tariff for all types of calls would have increased the call rates in India especially the local call and would have adversely affect the interest of low-pricing customers,” it said.

The industry bodies said currently, Internet-based companies are experimenting with various marketing innovations and business models to promote their services and differential data service plans including platform offering free Internet that can facilitate such marketing innovation or business models.

“Therefore, TSPs should be allowed to offer differential tariff for specific content/ website till it is non-discriminatory,” it said.

COAI represents telecom majors like Airtel, Vodafone, Reliance Jio Infocomm, Idea Cellular, Telenorwhile AUSPI represents Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices, Sistema Shyam Teleservices and Quadrant Televentures.

The associations in a joint letter said differential pricing is permitted under present regime as long as there is a clear differentiation in the classification of subscribers.

The letter further said a content provider can have a non-exclusive agreement with the TSP so that the zero-rated service could be made available to other TSPs.

The associations have opposed the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) method saying it is not the right way of differential tariff as the same has the potential to be misused.

To justify their stand, telecom operators cited example of e-commerce companies signing exclusive deals to sell mobile handsets, tatkal tickets offered by Indian Railways for travelling in same train, mineral waters at higher price in multiplexes etc. Industry chamber Assocham, ACTO, global telecom body GSMA also favoured allowing of differential pricing for data.

The debate which at some point became Facebook’s Free Basics versus net neutrality saw mixed reaction from public.

“Seeking discriminatory data plans is it self a privilege wanted by the data companies. Now free basics by facebook is also on its way to ensure that net neutrality becomes a history in India. As they do not promise it to be unbiased in future, they reserve the right to reject a website or a consumer,” an individual Amritesh Praksh Dixit said.

In support of Free Basics, an individual Devi Dileep said “In my opinion,Net Neutrality must be retained. But, at the same time let us not completely discard Free Basics. Government could work out a modified model with Facebook. Let them give the Free Basics on a trial basis.”

Apps That Are Getting India Online – for Free

Apps That Are Getting India Online - for Free

Should differential pricing of the Internet be allowed in India? How about whether Facebook’s Free Basics violates net neutrality? Questions like these are very important, and although the debate is an ongoing one, it is going to determine the future of the Internet for a vast number of Indians. Regardless of which side of this discussion you fall on, one thing that all participants can agree on is that it is important that people be given tools to get connected to the Internet – the full and unrestricted Internet – and experience its transformative power.

The question is how to get the next wave of data users online, and we’ve made a list of apps that give free, unrestricted Internet data to their users, who can use it on any sites or apps they choose. Most people who are against initiatives such as Free Basics because they restrict the websites a user can access, feel that this kind of free data does not violate the spirit of net neutrality, as the user is not being restricted in any way.

“When we were making the app, we weren’t thinking of net neutrality first, and then working backwards from there,” says Shailesh Nalawadi, co-founder at Mavin, the company that made Gigato, one of the apps featured in our list. “What we were thinking of was that Internet access is a pain point for people, and so how can we make it so that we can get more people online? And we built forward from that idea to the app you see right now.”

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The way it works is simple – Gigato subsidises the cost of Internet access to partner apps, by reimbursing you for the amount of data used by that app and often gives you a little extra, which can be used on any site or app. Since many of the apps that have partnered with Gigato are ones that you might be using on a day to day basis anyway, it actually works out quite well. For example, if you’ve installed Gigato on your Android phone, and use WhatsApp and Twitter, then for every 20MB of mobile data you consume, you’ll get 25MB of data that can be redeemed from your operator on any website.

“I think that everyone is trying to solve the problem of getting people online. For our part, we wanted to make sure that anyone can partner with us, and we’ve made it clear that there are no exclusive tie ups on our app,” says Nalawadi, “and from the user side, we’re trying to support all the different operators, so that all users can use Gigato, and we don’t mandate how you use your free data. You can use it anywhere, anyhow. So there are no exclusives and there is no restriction, which is why this is not against net neutrality.”

“It’s really more like a shop giving a cashback to a loyal customer, to make a somewhat bad analogy,” he adds.

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This is different from a concept like Airtel Zero – a service Airtel planned to roll out to companies, to allow them to pay for data access by users. Under Airtel Zero, it would have been free to visit websites that were paying for the service, but this kind of differential pricing obviously gives a huge advantage to companies with deep pockets. A service like Airtel Zero would drive up the initial cost for Internet startups making it harder for new companies to emerge. With Gigato on the other hand, you’re “earning” data for using the apps you already have, and this can then be used for free access to any site on the Web.

Music streaming service Saavn has also experimented with the concept, with its FreeStream app thatoffered free data to users. The idea is simple – you pay for the mobile data you used to listen to music, and as a way of thanking loyal customers, Saavn offers a recharge voucher you can use on your operator. On a blog post, Saavn CEO Rishi Malhotra writes that the company is strongly in favour of net neutrality, adding: “It also keeps startup jobs in India, which enables innovation and skills to compound rather than letting only the large companies thrive based on sheer capitalisation.”

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According to him, the biggest point of friction for many users is that they don’t know what value the Internet can offer to them personally. Programs like Freestream, he argues, enable users to “test” the Internet without having to spend much money, which leads to greater adoption and usage of the Internet over time.

Paytunes is a young Indian startup that launched only in October, and so it’s no surprise that it’s Chief Marketing Officer, Rakesh Sehgal, says it’s in favour of net neutrality. “We wanted to be very clear about what we’re doing – you listen to an ad and get paid for it,” he says. “So there is no question of net neutrality at all, it’s completely fair – anyone can use this, and access any websites, or any apps. There is no benefit to using any websites or apps, and there is no data you have to spend either.”

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Paytunes replaces the ringtone on your phone with ad jingles – each time you get a call, the ads play, and if the jingle gets to run for 6 seconds, you will earn a point for it (if the call lasts for 30 seconds). This ensures that you’re not spamming the system to fake up points, and every 3 points can be redeemed for Re. 1. That might not sound like much, but even 10 calls a day means a free recharge of Rs. 100.

“We wanted to make an app that fits into your day to day routine, so you don’t have to do anything you wouldn’t normally do just for earning points,” says Sehgal. “With the other free talktime apps you have to download apps or use apps that you might not normally do, but everyone has to answer calls. It’s an easy way to get free data, and it fully supports net neutrality.”

81 Percent Citizens Against Facebook’s Free Basics

81 Percent Citizens Against Facebook's Free Basics: Survey

A whopping 81 percent in a survey of 30,000 people have voted against Free Basics or any such programme and want an unbiased or neutral Internet for themselves, a survey conducted by citizen engagement platform LocalCircles said in New Delhi on Thursday.

LocalCircles said in a statement that when asked if the central or state government should provide free Internet access covering essential or useful citizen services, 78 percent of the respondents said yes.

“This basically redefines the concept of net neutrality and has implications on what is provided as content when the Internet is free and provided by the government. Internet evangelists who have stake in the Internet being open to all meaning that all websites and apps should be given equal access will be disappointed by what the citizens want,” the statement said.

“If the government wants to make electronic books available for free it can make sure that they are at least available on all government hotspots,” said LocalCircles chief strategy officer K. Yatish Rajawat.

“This would not be possible if free Internet is understood only through what private Internet companies are offering. The debate on net neutrality has to take into account that access to Internet is important and its misuse is also a possibility,” he added.

Industrialist Anil Ambani-led Reliance Communications (RCom) on December 23 said following the Indian telecom regulator’s directive, the commercial launch of Facebook’s Free Basics has been put on hold till it gets clearance.

RCom is the only telecom service provider offering Free Basics in India.

The regulator said Facebook’s Free Basics service should remain on hold till the ruling on differential pricing on data services – an important aspect of net neutrality – comes.

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China’s cyber chief defends censorship ahead of Internet conference

China’s cyber chief rejected criticism on Wednesday that the country’s Internet was too censored, arguing ahead of a major state-sponsored Internet conference that order was a means to online freedom.

China has the world’s most sophisticated online censorship system, known elsewhere as the ‘Great Firewall’, and experts have said China’s inaugural World Internet Conference last year in Wuzhen, southwest of Shanghai, was part of Beijing’s effort to shape global Internet governance rules.

This year, the government is upping the scale of the event, to be held from Dec. 16-18, which will include a speech by President Xi Jinping and be attended by prime ministers from Russia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan.

Lu Wei, head of the Cyberspace Administration of China, defended the blocking of some websites and censoring of online posts, saying that if the government were being too restrictive with the Internet, the country’s online market would not be developing so rapidly.

“Indeed, we do not welcome those that make money off China, occupy China’s market, even as they slander China’s people. These kinds of websites I definitely will not allow in my house,” Lu told reporters at a briefing on the conference.

Lu reiterated earlier vows that China would pick and choose its friends when it comes to the Internet.

“I, indeed, may choose who comes into my house. They can come if they are friends,” Lu said.

“Freedom is our goal. Order is our means,” he said.

China has the world’s largest population of Internet users, around 650 million, and is home to some of the biggest Internet firms such as Tencent Holdings, Baidu Inc and Alibaba Group Holding.

The government aggressively censors the Internet, blocking many sites it deems could challenge the rule of the Communist Party or threaten stability, including Western sites such as Facebook and Google’s main search engine and Gmail service.

Authorities have launched numerous operations to combat illegal online behavior, from pornography to gambling.

Recent moves, however, have coincided with a crackdown on online freedom of expression, which has intensified since Xi came to power in 2013.

China this year has also advanced a series of laws and regulations that contain “secure and controllable” provisions, which many foreign technology firms fear could mandate the handover of commercial secrets.

China says that the rules are necessary in light of growing national security challenges and the global threat of terrorism.

10 ways the Internet of Things will improve your life

It’s easy to dismiss “the Internet of Things” as a meaningless buzz-phrase, but the next generation of always-on, connected home devices are going to make everyday life different in more ways than one – here we’re going to highlight some of the changes you can expect.

Of course it’s going to be a gradual process, and some people are going to embrace the IoT lifestyle quicker than others, but eventually even the most sluggish tech adopters are going to notice the benefits of this new wave of hardware devices and software systems.

1. Remote control households

 

One of the main advantages of having everything in your home hooked up to the web is being able to operate your appliances from anywhere – whether you want to turn the lights on while you’re away from home to scare off the burglars or you need to check what’s in the fridge before you set off on your journey home from work, the Internet of Things has you covered.

2. Improved home security

Clever devices like Dropcam and Canary are changing the way that people keep an eye on their homes: these smart, simple to use security cameras can alert you when unexpected motion is detected and let you tap into a live feed of your living room any time you like. Even when you’re not at home, you can keep an eye on the pets, the kids or the back door that has a dodgy lock.

3. More convenience

 

Consider how inconvenient it is to have to lend someone else your house keys or even leave a key under a flower pot outside your door. Get hold of one of the next generation of smart locks and everything becomes much simpler – you can let in the plumber even while you’re sat at your office desk and grant friends and family access to your home (via their smartphone) as and when required.

4. The most up-to-date technology

Having (almost) everything in your home talking to your broadband router means updates and software patches can be rolled out from headquarters in minutes. Updating your smartphone’s operating system on a regular basis improves security, adds extra features and squashes bugs, and in the near future you’re going to be able to do the same for your microwave and your hall clock (and most updates will be automatic too).

5. A more personalised home

 

An abundance of smart kit around the house means devices that are more personalised to you and your tastes – consider a lightbulb that can switch between dozens of colours depending on your mood, for example, or a touchscreen fridge display that brings up menus customised to your previous eating habits and the food you’ve got in stock. Even if we’re all buying the same gear we’ll be able to tweak it in many different ways.

6. No more instruction manuals

We’re already talking to our smartphones, and we’ll soon be doing the same for all of the Internet-enabled gizmos inside our homes: you’ll be able to tell the microwave what you’re cooking rather than fiddle around with the dials and buttons on the front, and shout out the movie you want to see at your smart television set instead of having to wade through a complicated on-screen guide with a remote control.

7. Simpler shopping

 

Innovations such as the Amazon Dash button may seem like gimmicks at first, but they have the potential to fundamentally change the way we go about our shopping. You may think that having your groceries delivered to your door is novel, but in years to come you won’t even have to fill out a shopping list – your smart cupboards and smart fridge will know what you need before you do.

8. More time on your hands

A lot of the Internet of Things gadgets coming over the horizon are designed to free up time in your schedule: whether it’s a smart, Wi-Fi enabled kettle that can have a brew ready the moment you get up in the morning or bathroom mirror display that tells you how much traffic there is on the way to work, you should find yourself with extra minutes in the day to use as you see fit.

9. Lower household bills

 

Smart meters, smart thermostats and other types of intelligent heating system are going to be able to keep your household bills lower by monitoring your energy use and making sure you’re only using the gas and electricity you really need – imagine a heating system that switches off automatically when it spots you leaving the house, for example, or that can be scheduled to turn on in 10 minute bursts.

10. Devices that know you better

This may or may not be an improvement depending on how comfortable you are with the major tech companies tracking your every move, but the Internet of Things means household gadgets are going to become much better at understanding our preferences and lifestyle patterns: they’ll eventually learn the optimal heating, lighting and security schedules for our homes on their own, making changes without any need for manual input.

Hike Adds Feature That Lets Users Send Messages and Files Without Internet

Instant messaging platform Hike on Thursday launched a new feature named Hike Direct which will allow the app to function without an Internet connection and also said that it has reached a user base of over 70 million.

“At a point of time in the country where several people are yet to come online, Hike Direct will connect users in a never before seen revolutionary way. The feature can work without Wi-Fi or mobile data and allow users to send photos, stickers, files and messages to anyone who is also on the Hike network,” said Kavin Bharti Mittal, founder and chief executive of Hike.

“Files as large as 70MB can be sent in over 10 seconds,” Mittal added.

Although the feature can work without Internet, it won’t work outside a 100-metre radius. The technology used to create the feature is same as the Wi-Fi direct technology available in most smartphones today.

Mittal said the messaging application was growing at a pace of 100 percent year-on-year. “Currently we are processing 20 billion messages monthly and people are spending at least 140 minutes on the app on a weekly basis.”

Recently, the messaging platform released a feature that would allow users free group calling on the app, connecting up to 100 people at the same time.

The Bharti SoftBank-backed messaging app has released a flurry of new features which include free stickers in local languages, data transfer option up to 100MB, and making the platform 4G ready, to expand its consumer base in the country which is over 35 million.

Bharti Softbank is a joint venture between Bharti Group and Japan’s SoftBank. Other popular rivals likeWhatsApp and Viber, respectively, have a user base of 900 million and over 40 million.

The messaging platform had also secured $65 million (roughly Rs. 400 crores) in funding in the middle of last year from a group of overseas investors led by Tiger Global Management.