Telecom companies and global tech players are sparring again — this time over providing fibre connectivity to data centres (DCs), considered a key broadband infrastructure for driving growth in the IT-enabled services space.
In its submission to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), Reliance Jio has urged the regulator to back fibre connectivity to DCs only via “licenced entities”. It has warned that any “unwarranted interference would result in regulatory uncertainty, threaten national security and result in wastage of resources causing market distortions, litigations and economic inefficiencies in the sector”.
Tech companies, on their part, have countered Jio’s views, saying any draconian entry barriers would lead to a concentration of DCs around urban markets as telcos have seldom invested in such broadband infrastructure in rural areas and small towns, and would also undermine the growth prospects of the nascent DC industry.
“…advocating fibre connectivity to DCs only by licensed entities and disallowing captive use of dark fibre will be detrimental to the growth of an infant DC industry that’s heavily reliant on such infrastructure,” the Broadband India Forum (BIF) said in its TRAI submission. Having “insurmountable barriers to entry” will also affect the welfare of consumers, said the BIF, which counts Amazon, Cisco, Google, Microsoft, Facebook-owner Meta, Qualcomm and Intel among its members.
TRAI, in its discussion paper on the regulatory framework for establishing DCs and content delivery networks (CDNs), has estimated the Indian DC market to be $1.5 billion in 2022, and grow at a 11.4% compounded annual rate to scale the $5-billion mark by 2025. A Nasscom study estimates the global data centre market to reach $200 billion a year by 2025, driven by investments in hyper-scale DCs amid rising demand for cloud services.
Jio has also slammed mobile value-added services providers, saying their worries around telco networks not being suited to deliver cloud services were “factually misplaced”, given that telcos were poised to roll out low-latency, high speed 5G networks. It added that licensed telcos had already made sizeable investments in networks to support enterprise customers with quality broadband services.
The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI), in its TRAI submission, said traditional mobile phone networks “are principally designed for mobile voice services or public data services, such as IP services, and accordingly, not suitable for cloud services which require very high availability, bandwidth and low-latency for extremely high amounts of data”. The IAMAI represents India’s online and mobile value-added services sectors.
Bharti Airtel has also countered this, saying any challenges around delivering fibre connectivity to DCs can be easily overcome if associated “right of way (RoW) issues are resolved quickly”.
Separately, India’s top two telcos, Jio and Airtel, have sparred over the need to regulate CDNs — used by global tech players to locally host data — to ensure tighter enforcement of net neutrality rules.
Jio wants TRAI to back its call for bringing CDNs under a regulatory framework so that “contractual pacts between Internet companies, CDNs, telcos and ISPs can be monitored for any anticompetitive practices and violation of any net neutrality principles”.
The CDNs, typically, are a geographically distributed group of servers that work together to provide swift delivery of Internet content. As a result, they are popular with Internet companies and content providers who deploy them to improve customer experience and save bandwidth needs.
Airtel, in its submission to TRAI, said “commercial arrangements between CDNs and ISPs should continue to be governed by market forces and (that) no regulatory intervention is required”. This, it said, is since the benefits from CDNs are mutual for content providers and ISPs.
It added that the real priority for TRAI “should be to increase Internet penetration by incentivising TSPs/ISPs (in the form license fee waivers) as they have made substantial investments in not only increasing such penetration but also in meeting India’s security needs by ensuring bona fide use of the service and monitoring internet traffic”.
Airtel said “CDNs, operated by unlicensed entities, could be brought under a simple registration framework for enforcing requirements of quality of services, security and content blocking”.
In August 2017, TRAI had recommended a free and open Internet and even suggested monetary penalties for violation of net neutrality rules, starting at Rs 50,000 per violation a day but capped at Rs 50 lakh. It had also mooted a multi-stakeholder body, comprising telcos, ISPs, content providers, civil society organisations and consumer representatives to detect violations.
In August 2018, the telecom department backed TRAI’s recommendations but said actual monitoring and enforcement of the rules would remain with it, and that the proposed stakeholder body would play only an advisory role. Mac Pro Tricks