The Internet is
a global network of close to 100 million people. It provides a vast range of telecommunication
services, including electronic mail, the World Wide Web, and more recently, telephony.
With appropriate software that can be downloaded free, users who are logged onto
the Internet can talk to each other anywhere in the world at no additional cost.
Recently, some companies have started services that allow such users to even talk
to people who do not have an Internet connection, but only a regular phone, at
a cost far below regular long-distance charges. How is this possible?
multinationals (telcos), which so far have often monopolized services in their
own countries, have been charging their customers very high rates for international
telephony. Internet telephony is a lot cheaper, because it does not incur many
costs that the telcos do. These include marketing, metering, billing and collecting
from their customers, which add a huge overhead. Also, they use expensive switches,
which have been programmed independently at great cost by each supplier. As against
this, the Internet runs on software that is largely free - many universities,
research institutions, companies and individuals have incurred the costs of developing
it on their own. Until recently, most telcos have enjoyed the benefits of monopoly
pricing. In India, they still do.
Situation with Internet telephony in India In a note dated 5 Jan 1998,
VSNL asked its Internet customers "not to use the Internet connection for
Telephony or Fax applications," and that those who violated this "would
be permanently debarred from using Internet services" (see Annexure 1). Not
content with this, VSNL has also been preventing access through the Internet to
some companies that write Internet telephony software. As a consequence, VSNL's
customers are being prevented from sending electronic mail to these companies,
and from accessing their Web sites for information. The title pages of 3 such
blocked Web sites are reproduced in Annexure 2, to show that the contents in no
way violate Indian law.
complaint to the VSNL Help Desk, elicited the following one-line response: "sir,
this site is not accessible from vsnl." When asked why, and under which power
and authority access to the Vocaltec site had been blocked, VSNL's manager in
charge of Internet services, Neeraj Sonker, also provided a one-line reply, "As
part of contract terms and conditions, we don't encourage voice over ip."
IP stands for Internet Protocol. In other words, Mr. Sonker seems to suggest that
VSNL have a problem with voice in any form carried over the Internet. No response
has been received from VSNL to the following request, which seeks to determine
the scope of VSNL's ban:
respect to the ban on Internet telephony cited below, could you please clarify
exactly what is banned: 1) Is it permissible to access a web page that automatically
plays an audio file on my computer? 2) Is it permissible to attach a voice
message to an e-mail message and send it via VSNL? 3) Is it permissible to
access voice mail from a US voice mail box through the Internet? 4) Since
you mention fax as well in your ban, is it permissible to attach the scanned image
of a page, and send that as an attachment to an e-mail message? 5) The same
scanned image of a page may also have been put up on a web page. Is it illegal
to access such a page?"