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CASBAA advocates for consumer access to lawful content on Internet

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MUMBAI: The net neutrality debate is still on in India. The Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia (CASBAA), which is a non-profit trade association, has said that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) consultation paper on ‘Regulatory Framework for Over the Top (OTT) services’ focuses to a large degree on OTT applications that are used as communications services.

Opining on the issue of net neutrality, CASBAA said that consumers should have access to all lawful content on the Internet and that they should be able to use whatever lawful services and devices they wish whether from India or overseas.

“Consumers should have guaranteed right to accurate, comparable and relevant information about the management practices of the operator from which they choose to buy Internet service, and about the full costs and conditions of the service they purchase. Legitimate network management measures, including data caps and bandwidth limitations, are inevitable, in current situations of limited network capacity, but they should be clearly specified and understood. Consumers who want to buy better service should be able to easily migrate to another provider,” said the industry body, which comprises 110 companies dedicated to the promotion of multi-channel television via cable, satellite, broadband and wireless video networks across the Asia- Pacific region.

“Our focus is somewhat different – we are concerned with development of high-capacity broadband networks capable of delivering large quantities of high-quality video content to consumers. India’s development path is likely to follow the trajectory set by other large and diverse societies, and we should therefore anticipate that the future principal use of the broadband networks will be to provide video, which consumers will use to watch at the time of their choosing on many different kinds of devices. In much of the developed world, the Internet has in fact become a TV network with some other uses, and Indian policy should be made with that in view,” CASBAA said in its response.

Presenting a few facts and projections, CASBAA noted that:

• IP video traffic made up two-thirds of global Internet traffic in 2013; the percentage will rise to around 80 per cent by 2018. For the Asia-Pacific region alone, the corresponding numbers are 63 per cent in 2013 and 75 per cent by 2018.

• Even with respect to mobile networks (leaving out fixed line connections), the latest forecast is that nearly three-fourths (72 per cent) of the world’s mobile data traffic will be video by 2019. Video was already 55 per cent of mobile traffic in 2014.

• A key means of accommodating this level of mobile traffic growth will be offload of traffic from mobile devices to the fixed network by means of Wi-Fi devices and femtocells. By next year (2016) half of all mobile data traffic will be offloaded by these means, each month. Indian mobile network operators will have to invest to develop such options, or risk network overload.

CASBAA suggested that Indian telecom service providers needed to make heavy investments in the coming years. “Our industry wants and needs to be able to reach consumers with service offers that meet them where they want to be; that means a different future – the content industry will be moving online, and that means having networks that are capable of accommodating demand. We do not believe the TRAI or the government should adopt policies that result in reducing or rationing of funds for network investment. Advocates of ‘networks for all, open to all’ sometimes tend to forget that capable networks are costly, and they will not build themselves,” it said.

The non-profit body does not believe in government’s role in financing such networks is appropriate, both because governments have shown themselves to be incapable of moving with sufficient alacrity and flexibility to accommodate dynamic market demand/technological change, and because governments need to devote taxpayers’ scarce resources to building networks to be used primarily for entertainment. “The private sector could and should mobilize the necessary resources to make these investments, as long as government policy recognizes and facilitates that resource mobilization,” opined CASBAA.

Like India’s broadband networks, the online content industry is only at an embryonic stage of development. Market actors are just beginning to frame consumer offerings to see which can succeed in the Indian context. 

The body, in its response, also raised a few concerns:

• TRAI and the government must avoid seeing the online content industry as another facet of the mature television content supply industry, ripe for extension of the same regulatory approaches governing the “traditional” TV industry. This would be a colossal mistake, especially at this new stage of development of online content supply in India. Over- regulation will constrain development of newer business models, which could be of great benefit to consumers and to India’s overall economic development. Stated differently, in India’s specific circumstances, submission of online content suppliers to the entire panoply of regulations (rate regulation, “must provide,” interoperability, interconnection regulation, etc.) that have evolved in the cable and satellite sectors would kill innovation. 

• Even as the Indian industry develops legitimate content supply options, CASBAA sees a strong likelihood that the consumption of pirated content – already a substantial factor in the market – will continue to grow. “There are numerous actors, big and small, in the Internet economy who see other people’s content as attractive underpinnings for services for which the goal is simply sales of bandwidth or attraction of “eyeballs” – where more is better. Further development of the online pirate economy will sap legitimate content production of its energies. Government policies must support protection of intellectual property and promotion of a fair return on creative investment.

CASBAA also feels that consumers should not be expected to pay for their network services at rates that subsidize service to the heaviest users. “If a consumer doesn’t want to buy Netflix, for example, he/she should not have to pay Internet service rates set to provide Netflix - like bandwidth. Differential consumer pricing should be recognized as an essential element in meeting the needs of vastly different groups of consumers,” the association said.

CASBAA further feels that TRAI may define the parameters for a basic level of Internet service, setting minimum bandwidth and speed standards, and the types of services that must be supplied in a completely nondiscriminatory manner at the basic service level. “We do not see the advisability of including entertainment- oriented services in this basic service level. Leaving them out of the regulatory net will allow more scope for experimentation and innovation, to meet the needs of different consumer groups,” it said.

According to CASBAA, Internet consumers can be offered the opportunity to purchase superior service levels (above the basic service). Those who do not buy superior service will find it difficult to access high-bandwidth entertainment applications; this should be expected, as long as consumers have clear and accurate disclosure of any prioritization being applied.

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