Net Neutrality Crucial For Digital India’s Success
July 13, 2015
Internet of (every) things will be restricted if VoIP apps are restricted.As Digital India week comes to a close, word is that India has elected to power its more pro-technology government yet. Yet, there is speculation of self-created hindrances to the government’s Digital India Vision. If media stories from the last fortnight are any indication, the so far unreleased report of the Department of Telecommunications on net neutrality is making a case for the licensing of voice over Internet Protocol Services such as Whatsapp and Skype.During his address at the Digital India launch event, Prime Minister Modi elaborated on the need for the program to focus on innovation. The Prime Minister assured full support to young entrepreneurs who wished to launch Start-ups. He called upon the youth to innovate and said ‘Design in India’ is as important as ‘Make in India’. In the launch, the official policy on Internet of Things – pegged as the driver of Innovation for Digital India was also announced.I would argue that a pivotal part of supporting India’s start-ups and young e-innovators, and enabling the proliferation of the Internet of Things in a big way, is creating a policy and regulatory environment that allows them to function without any bureaucratic fetters. This is why, the need for a neutral Internet, without placing any licensing requirements on the Indian developers of the next WhatsApp or Viber or any other application that would use a VoIP feature is of imperative importance. If the Government is indeed committed to the Digital India vision, it needs to explicitly clarify on its position on Net Neutrality, and the licensing of applications.The concern with regard to cherry-picking VoIP applications for licensing is that it shall prevent future technologies and applications that could very well combine VoIP with other features in a truly trans-formative way for the citizen or consumer, from being developed.This is especially true in light of the Government’s current focus on the Internet of Things. The IoT is a giant network of connected ‘things’ (which also includes people). With the development of IoT, the relationship between people, people-things, and things-things shall also be transformed. But the future of IoT will be reliant on combining a host of cutting edge features of technology with everyday objects is the future — and this is also something our draft Internet of Things policy would have us believe.The government’s IoT policy states: “With the advent of the Internet of Things (IoT), fed by sensors soon to number in the trillions, working with intelligent systems in the billions, and involving millions of applications, the Internet of Things will drive new consumer and business behavior that will demand increasingly intelligent industry solutions, which, in turn, will drive trillions of dollars in opportunity for IT industry and even more for the companies that take advantage of the IoT.”It would be naïve and impractical to license VoIP based applications, as in the times to come, some of the most useful and transforming technologies are very likely to use VoIP features in combination with regular messaging, content sharing or transaction features. Legitimate cyber security concerns can be dealt with by other far more efficient solutions.The key to the future of the IoT and machine to machine (M2M) technology is making different services (including VoIP services), networks and applications integrate seamlessly. Without net neutrality, this will be a big challenge, as service providers now have control over what services, applications and devices can use their networks to communicate with others.To license VoIPs at this stage would prove disastrous for India’s innovation ecosystem, and amount to pandering to the invalid argument of the Telco lobby which asks for a ‘level playing field’ between apples and oranges.The irony is that these technological developments provide a huge opportunity for Telcos to boost their own revenues in an unprecedented manner — something I had also argued in my formal submission to the TRAI Consultation. The IoT policy itself acknowledges this — ”IoT offers avenues for telecom operators & system integrators to significantly boost their revenues and this has resulted in their taking lead in adoption of IoT applications and services being offered by the technology.”As someone who has spent more than a little time in this sector, disruption is the new normal in technology. By resisting this, the Telcos are only defying the laws of gravity of the technology sector and trying to duck innovation and change.The government’s report on net neutrality shall be the first official marker on its Digital India position. I hope it will be reflective of the tremendous potential and creativity that can be unleashed by a successful Digital India and not a short sighted self-goal under the influence of a few Telcos.