Indian Startups Unite Against Telecom Operators’ Proposal
An Unprecedented Unity
In an unprecedented display of unity, 128 of India’s largest startups have rallied together to contest a proposal by telecom operators. The contention revolves around the imposition of network usage fees on internet-based service providers such as WhatsApp, Netflix, and Telegram. The proposal also suggests bringing these service providers under a regulatory framework similar to that of telecommunications service providers. The startups argue that such measures are unnecessary as internet services are already regulated under the IT Act, 2000.
Preserving Internet Neutrality
According to the startups, the internet is a complex network and not a mere two-sided market. They articulate that they already pay for the sending and receiving of content via the internet through their own internet service providers, much like any other user. Their concern lies in the proposed regulatory framework, which could empower telecom service providers to skew the playing field in favor of specific websites, applications, or services. Such a move could lead to discrimination, the creation of a non-level playing field, the establishment of entry barriers, and an increased compliance burden.
Concerns Over Arbitrary Categorisation
The startups also expressed concerns over the proposed methods of classifying applications or services as “large traffic generators” and determining the “fair and proportionate share/contribution.” They argue that these methods are arbitrary and lack clarity, potentially leading to decisions being taken on a case-to-case basis. They call for the internet to be maintained as an open platform where network providers treat all content, applications, and services equally, without discrimination.
The Potential Impact on the Startup Ecosystem
The startups further argue that the telecom licensing requirements could impose additional costs that could be detrimental to India’s thriving startup ecosystem. They have urged the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to strengthen rather than dilute the principles outlined in the 2016 ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations’. This regulation restricted the charging of discriminatory prices to consumers based on content. The startups believe that granting telecom service providers the power to control these factors will likely impact the flourishing Indian startup ecosystem adversely.
Signatories of the Letter
The representatives of the startups that signed the letter include founders of Zerodha, Webveda, TrulyMadly, Razorpay, Toppr.com, Rapido, PhonePe, Paytm, MapmyIndia, Matrimony.com, ixigo, IndiaMART, and 99Games Online, among others. Their united stance against the proposal underscores the importance of internet neutrality to the survival and growth of India’s startup ecosystem.
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