According to the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), a fair-share contribution from over-the-top (OTT) players will not violate net neutrality, contrary to the opinions being floated in the industry.

Misleading and speculative views are being promoted, regarding the idea of the proposed fair-share charge to be paid by large traffic generating (LTG) OTT players to the telecom service providers (TSPs) for the development, upkeep, and sustenance of robust and quality telecom networks across the country, for catering to the colossal traffic being loaded on the networks and the steadily growing data demands, says COAI.

COAI affirms that the proposed fair share charge does not affect access to an open and free internet. The content and services for consumers would remain fully accessible with no traffic management/differentiation. Further, there will be no throttling, no blocking, and no paid prioritisation for any service/application irrespective of the fair share charge paid. The price for the traffic paid by end users will not change depending on whether the traffic generator is subject to fair share payments or not.

Commenting on the issue, Lt. Gen. Dr. S. P. Kochhar, director general (DG), COAI, said, “All of the concerns being raised such as favouring one website/application/service, pricing differentiation, decision on charging fair share on a case-to-case basis, etc. are imagined and speculative scenarios. It is also argued that OTTs do not generate traffic, but it is rather the end users whose demand leads to traffic. This is a flawed argument since the OTTs decide, without user control and knowledge, the traffic volumes delivered as well as on compression techniques, i.e., transmitting in standard definition, high definition, or ultra-high definition and how to proceed in case of network congestion by reducing the quality of the streaming. Features such as auto-play, continuous-play or advertising are also not requested by end users but automatically provisioned in these services, which result in significant traffic volumes. The fair share charge represents a just compensation mechanism intended to be paid by the LTGs to TSPs, driven by the goal of ensuring the sustainability of telecom networks and create a harmonious and just framework that secures the industry’s well-being over the long term. A fairer allocation of network costs can relieve the pressure on consumer prices for communication services as the only way to meet the enormous investment needs of the sector. This approach would benefit both the industry and consumers, while propelling economic and technological advancement.”

Further, he added, “Our proposal for providing exemptions to startups, micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) within the OTT ecosystem from payment of fair share charge, as clearly mentioned in our submission to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), not only establishes a supportive framework for nurturing startups, but also ensures that smaller players enjoy the advantages of improved network quality. By defining a threshold to be subject to the obligation, only largest traffic originators will have to pay for the service of delivering their traffic to end users. The payment of fair share fee by LTGs to TSPs will eventually enhance customer satisfaction, as end-users will benefit via enjoy better network quality and improved services. The customer satisfaction being paramount for both OTT providers and TSPs, the fair share charge will help enhance customer experience by fostering a healthy digital ecosystem. In addition, promoting the sustainability of networks will expedite the attainment of our nation’s connectivity goals, which will not only serve the broader societal interest, but will also enable OTT players to offer innovative services to a more expansive market.”