Industrial body Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) on Sunday reaffirmed its support for ‘net neutrality’, but also made a strong pitch for ‘net equality’ that will enable access to Internet for a billion Indians as part of the governments digital India vision.
In a statement today, COAI urged all stakeholders in net neutrality to have a comprehensive and informed debate on the subject, keeping in mind the requirements of India and its citizens. “An important and complex subject such as this, which is still being debated in many countries, which has taken years to conclude in many other countries and which is the subject of litigation in some, should not be left to the opinion of a few,” the association said.
It made a strong pitch for ‘net equality’ that will enable access to the Internet for a billion Indians as part of the government’s Digital India vision. “We support an open Internet and believe that consumers, should decide what to do online. Our job is to enable consumers to benefit from that freedom. We offer choice and do not block or provide any preferential access to any website or app,” it added.
COAI said its members are fully committed to investing in digital India and need an enabling environment that promotes the growth of the entire Internet ecosystem. “Without infrastructure and investment, there will be no Internet access. Operators have invested billions of dollars in license fees, spectrum fees and network roll-outs. Yet the Industry still makes negative return on the capital employed,” it said.
The industry estimates India would need an additional capital outlay of Rs 3-5 lakh crore over the next 10 years in spectrum, new technology, equipment, towers, optical fibre backbone, etc, to meet the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of Digital India and connect 1 billion Indians.
“The need of the hour, therefore, is to have a sustainable industry that has the ability to invest in growth of data services and connectivity to all,” COAI said. The association stressed on the need to ensure that same rules apply to same services to get Internet access. “We believe that our role is to enable all services to reach customers across the country. One of the key factors to enable this is that same rules must apply to the same type of services, including Mobile and IP Voice services,” it added. There is a need to ensure customers have the freedom to choose how they want to access the Internet. A customer should be free to choose the device, technology and access platform – paid or subsidised as long as the Internet is always open in terms of access in a non-discriminatory manner, it said.
“We support this! The interests of a few should not dictate the fundamental right of a customer to choose what he/she wants,” the COAI added.