Net Neutrality: Permit flexibility to differentiate between different traffic, says GSMA

The GSMA in its submission to Trai notes that there are several interpretations of the term “Net Neutrality”.

The strict interpretation that all data is equal has given way to the more realistic view that networks carry different types of traffic and therefore prohibiting traffic management practices can be counter-productive.

A broader view of the term “Net Neutrality” refers to the principle that the internet should be an open platform for freedom of expression, innovation and socia-economic development.

Mobile operators are committed to maintaining the open internet. Managing network traffic and offering different service packages do not contradict this belief in the open internet. Without managing data traffic, operators cannot efficiently meet consumers’ demands to access different types of applications and services through their mobile connections.

Forcing them, through Net Neutrality regulations, to be detached from their network traffic is neither operationally practical nor necessary. Networks are designed to carry different types of traffic that cannot be treated equally.

Internet Protocol (IP) based networks have been designed to route IP data packets according to their performance characteristics. Packet delivery needs to take into account multiple characteristics – type of traffic, destination of packet, availability of routing options, network propagation environment, etc.

For example, time sensitive services such as voice calls and video conferencing should be prioritized over delay-tolerant services such as file sharing and emails to meet the consumer expectations of different services and to support critical communication needs. Traffic management has been used in previous generation of networks and the need is greater than before due to the wider variety of services with different requirements.

Similar to the prioritization of voice calls in 2G and 3G networks, voice calls are prioritized over 4G networks based on open standards developed by international standards organiza-tions. The sophistication of traffic management will evolve as an increasing number of complex applications begin to use mobile networks and a growing number of device types access those applications.

A number of approaches, for example caching and Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), are also used across the internet ecosystem to improve service delivery to end-users. The efficient way to manage multiple traffic types is not to treat all traffic with the same priority, but to match the prioritization of network resources to the traffic characteristics and the service requirements.

Traffic management techniques are also necessary and appropriate in a variety of other operational and commercial circumstances which are as follows:

Network integrity: Protecting the network and customers from external threats, such as malware and deni-al-of-service attacks.

Child protection: Applying content filters that limit access to age-appropriate content.

Subscription-triggered services: Taking the appropriate action when a customer exceeds the contractual da-ta-usage allowance, or offering charging models that allow customers to choose the service or application they want.

Emergency calls: Routing calls to emergency services.

Monitor illegal content: Following a court order or in relation to voluntary actions, monitor spam and inappro-priate content from specific sites(s). Operators need technical and commercial flexibilityTraffic management does not imply blocking of a specific content or application provider on the network.

On the contrary, active management of network resources makes the consumer experience better and networks more efficient. This is particularly important in mobile networks. With finite network capacity, mobile networks experience congestion. This may arise due to seasonal traffic load (e.g. New Year celebrations), unexpected events (e.g. major road accident) and high data downloads (e.g. watching cricket matches on mobile phones).

Traffic management may result in constraining the capacity allocated to certain types of traffic (e.g., video streaming traffic) to ensure that they do not over-load the network. This is an essential mechanism to prevent the network from failing during traffic peaks, and to ensure access to essential services. Not doing so would result in time-critical services not being delivered within the expected performance bounds.

Traffic management also allows operators to offer a variety of tariffs to consumers with different combinations of price, throughput and inclusive data allowance. This benefits each consumer as he/she pays for what he/she needs. It also allows operators to support innovative services and business propositions by provisioning capacity with different price and performance attributes to content and application providers.

New services in industries such as healthcare and automo-tive require assured delivery over the broadband infrastructure. Net Neutrality rules that prohibit the technical and commercial flexibility to offer differentiated services and associated business models can hinder the development of these types of innovative technologies and services.

The GSMA agrees with TRAI’s view that adoption of strict Net Neutrality rule would make it impossible to offer differential quality of services to meet different service requirements and therefore such rules should be avoided.

The GSMA is of the view that to ensure the internet remains open and functional, mobile operators should be permitted the flexibility to differentiate between different types of traffic.

Operators should be free to agree commercial arrangements with content and application providers. Such arrangements can benefit consumers and businesses by aligning investment incentives with technological and market developments and improving the affordability of services for consumers. Regulations should not prohibit the availability of commercial offers such as zero-rated and sponsored data offers.

These obviously offer benefits to consumers by encouraging them to use the internet and to try new services without worrying about data consumption costs. They also provide opportu-nities for new content and application providers to make use of the marketing, distribution and billing platform of oper-ators and compete with established providers in the broader internet ecosystem.

A general prohibition of commercial practices and tariff models will have a negative impact on consumer choice, internet growth and innovation. Provisioning of different types of differentiated services over the broadband infrastructure will encourage operators to invest in their networks and offer innovative services to consumers as it is in their strategic interest to provide the best end-user experience to all their consumers. This is demonstrated by the numerous tariff plans that are currently offered to consumers to access internet without any restriction. Furthermore, these are also opportunities to raise additional revenues to support further investment in network capacity benefitting all content and applications providers and con-sumers. Differentiated services or multiple pricing models do not mean slow and inefficient delivery for other services.

As operators invest and innovate, through the deployment of new technologies and services, the choices and the speeds for consumers will continue to improve.

GSMA View on Regulating OTTs

1) Expansion of mobile data networks and growth of OTT services has changed the competitive landscape in which services, including traditional voice and messages services are offered to consumers.

2) The current telecommunications regulatory framework with its greater regulatory intensity on operators does not reflect the emerging competitive landscape. Public authorities should consider the impacts of the new competitive landscape and modernize regulatory framework so that no single entity or type of entity is disadvan-taged due to regulatory imbalances. In considering modernization of the regulatory framework, the GSMA believes that the TRAI should take full account of the concept of “same rules for the same service” and ensure a single, consistently applied framework is in place covering all competitors regardless of technology or the type of provid-er.

The GSMA also believes that the TRAI should focus its efforts on reducing the overall regulatory burden on operators.

3) Telecom operators should have the same extent of regulatory flexibility as other providers in the broader internet ecosystem. Operators should be free to enter into commercial arrangements with content and application providers, including two-sided business models that are used in the broader internet ecosystem and in other in-dustries. Regulation should not prohibit such commercial practices.

The GSMA, is of the view that operators should be allowed flexibility in how they communicate their traffic management practices. Regulatory authorities may wish to set general transparency objectives while allowing operators to decide how they communicate that information according to their business practices, internal processes, branding and market positioning.

The TRAI may wish to set, in consultation with industry, general transparency objectives without mandating particular requirements.

Regulatory Issues
The current telecommunications regulatory framework with its greater regulatory intensity on operators does not reflect the emerging competitive landscape. Despite the shift in the competitive landscape as a result of OTT services, the existing regulatory framework is still too focused on telecom operators.

While operators are subject to a number of regulatory and public policy obligations, OTTs have greater regulatory flexibility. The following areas are indicative of the greater regulatory obligations on operators: Regulatory fees: Operators are subject to a number of telecom specific fees such as spectrum usage charges, universal service fund levy and administrative charges.

Emergency calls: Operators must provide access to public emergency services, whereas no such obligation ap-plies to OTT communication services.

Transparency: Operators are required to publish the prices of their tariff plans and maintain up-to-date infor-mation. Network security: Operators are required to ensure the security and integrity of the networks.

Quality of service: Operators are subject to quality of service regulations and operators are required to report various quality of service parameters.

Lawful interception: Operators are required to comply with lawful interception requirements as part of their licence conditions. Personal data: There are differences in obligations related to confidentiality of personal data.

On Regulation Imbalances, AUSPI Says…

In the current regulatory environment an imbalance exists. To bridge the gap, the telecom regulatory re-gime needs to be realigned for the perspective of the network provider as well as the content and applica-tion provider. In addition to what has been stated in the TRAI consultation paper some other imbalances in the regulation which need to be addressed are:

a. Content regulation: In the current scenario, TSPs cannot regulate the contents available. A systemhas to be in place for necessary regulation of the internet content.

b. Customer service: As customers are acquired by the TSPs, they are liable to provide a mechanism for redressal of customer grievances, similarly OTT -service providers shall have to be obligated for de-ploying a customer service help desk for attending to the requirements of the customers.

c. Plagiarism and Content Piracy: A suitable regulation has to be in place for OTTs with regards to proprietary ownership of the content.

d. Arbitration: A well-defined system has to be in place for defining the areas of responsibility andmethodology for monitoring of the QoS and mechanisms in case of deficiency of services and the recourse available.

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