The Cellular Operators’ Association of India has countered the claims made by Indian start-ups on net neutrality, in the ongoing discussion on the need to regulate OTT players.

In a letter to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, the Association has argued that the start-ups’ appeal to TRAI was founded on falsehood and misinformation. 

On September 27, over 128 start-ups submitted a letter to TRAI opposing the telecom companies’ push to regulate OTT services and charge them a certain network usage fee. The signatories included Zerodha’s Nikhil Kamath and Paytm’s Vijay Shankar Sharma. 

COAI argues that the very foundation of this letter was based on falsehood and misinformation, “which has been used by the entity from which it has originated (Save the Internet), to gather support and signatures.”

What COAI calls Save the Internet, is the India chapter of the global net neutrality movement that initially gained attention in the mid-2010s. One of its former trustees, Medianama founder Nikhil Pahwa, was the key coordinator for the letter submitted to the TRAI. “A few weeks ago, we had asked start-ups to sign a letterin support of Net Neutrality and against Network Usage Fee and telecom licensing of online services. 128 start-ups/ investors have signed,” Pahwa said.

Also read: TRAI floats consultation paper to regulate OTT, selective banning of services

The September 27 letter by the start-ups states that the telecom companies had asked TRAI to allow them to charge start-ups a “network usage fee,” and push for certain online apps to be brought under a licensing regime. COAI, in its submissions to TRAI, said telcos have asked the regulator to exclude start-ups and small OTT players from paying the fair share charge or network usage fee. 

“In view of the same, we urge the Authority not to consider the submission and the signatures as credible or valid, as its entire premise is based on false pretence and misinformed views,” COAI states in its letter.

However, the COAI does not provide a counter to the start-ups arguing that such a form of regulatory framework could tilt the playing field in favour of one application or website, especially as definitions of “fair and proportionate share” and “large internet traffic generators” continues to be arbitrary. “The suggested methods of categorising an application or service as “large traffic generators” and deciding the “fair and proportionate share/ contribution” are arbitrary and lack clarity, which may lead to such decisions being taken on a case-to-case basis,” the letter states. 

Indeed, COAI does not discuss the mechanism for deciding the quantum of network usage fee or how it will decide that certain businesses will be MSMEs, start-ups or small OTT players.