Internet telephony: Internet service moot a level playing field

Internet telephony: Internet service moot a level playing field

Author | Pallavi Goorha | Wednesday, Dec 27,2006 9:16 AM

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Internet telephony: Internet service moot a level playing field

Now, ISPs and UASL (Unified Access Services License) licensee can provide Internet telephony service in India unrestricted following a Government order. As per the guidelines for issue of permission to offer Internet telephony services, the order stated, “Only ISP licensees are permitted within their service area to offer such Internet services. Subsequently, January 1, 2006 this service has also been included within the UASL.”

Final touches are being given to a proposal under which ITES companies must furnish the names of authorised service providers from whom bandwidth and Internet telephony minutes have been taken. The companies will also have to give an undertaking that they will not use the services of unlicensed foreign service providers such as Net2Phone, Vonage, Dialpad, Impetus, Novanet, Euros, Skype and Yahoo!.

Rajesh Chharia, President, Internet Service Providers Association of India (ISPAI), said, “Un-restricted Internet telephony has been allowed to the UASL. It should naturally be allowed to ISPs as it is bread and butter for them. It will be an effective tool in spreading broadband services in remote and rural areas along with voice.”

He further said, “Neither the 12.24 per cent service tax nor the 6 per cent AGR (proposed) should be applicable on Indian ISPs offering Internet telephony services. Foreign service providers should be brought under the Indian licensing regime.”

“It has come to our notice that the Department of Telecom has not issued any new licenses for ISPs as well as licensees for provisioning of Internet telephony by existing ISPs. A number of potential investors and applicants, including those with FDI proposals, are awaiting license. This delay, if allowed to carry on, will result in investment moving into other countries, thereby directly effecting growth of Internet, including broadband, in India,” warned Chharia.

Anupam Mittal, Chairman and MD, People Group, which runs the social networking site Fropper.com, said, “The government blocks websites using Internet protocol filters. However, anonymisers, URL redirection services, anonymous surfing via a proxy server are very popular among general Internet users in these countries to bypass the banned content.”

Content can never be checked and the Indian government seems to be learning this the hard way. Earlier this year, the Maoist website, www.peoplesmarch.com, was blocked under government directions. The site went off the Internet for a short period and then reappeared as http://peoplesmarch.googlepages.com.

Krishna Prasad, Head of Programming, Windows Live and MSN India, said, “Content can never be controlled on the Internet, there are so many different ways to put the same content on different places. False IDs, masked IPs and other technologies allow you to keep shifting content all the time.”

Adding to the worries of containing websites, now the Department of Telecom is working on a proposal to monitor and monetise unlicenced Internet telephony providers. But then again there are options to services like Skype.

Said Mittal, “Jingle, which operates on open protocol, is the best alternative to VoIP services like Coccinella, Google Talk, Kopete and Tapioca.” Moreover, VoIP providers can even have caller IDs as VoIP engines can easily forge this.

Chharia suggested that Government should encourage more and more companies to become ISPs so as to spread the use of broadband across the country and bridge the digital divide. The pending licensee may pleased be cleared expeditiously.

According to official sources, foreign players such as Skype, in addition to disturbing the level-playing field for bonafide licensees, were also causing great revenue loss to the Government, as they did not pay the 12 per cent service tax and 6 per cent revenue share on Internet telephony. Sources said that the Department of Telecom was keen to implement this move on security grounds too. Foreign service providers could be a serious security threat as they did not come under any Indian regulator and policy framework.

Chharia further said that Government should encourage more and more companies to become ISPs so as to spread the use of broadband across the country and bridge the digital divide.

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