- New Aspects of India-Bhutan Relations
- A Telco Double Dip Attempt that Threatens Net Neutrality
The decision made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India and Bhutan’s fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to prioritize infrastructure and connectivity during their recent discussions holds significant importance as it marks a step towards more collaborative regional efforts.
- India and its Neighborhood- Relations.
- Bilateral, Regional and Global Groupings and Agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s interests.
India and Bhutan can change the development story of the region. Analyse in the context of recent developments in India-Bhutan relations. (15 marks, 250 words).
Outcomes of the recent discussions:
- In a joint statement, the leaders discussed the completion of surveys for the Kokrajhar-Gelephu rail link, connecting Bhutan to Assam, and the initiation of talks about another rail link from Bhutan to West Bengal.
- Additionally, there are plans to facilitate trade between Bhutan and Bangladesh through a new rail link and to enhance border checkpoints along the India-Bhutan border.
- These plans foreshadow a potential transformation in the region’s development narrative, impacting areas such as West Bengal, the northeastern states of India, Bhutan’s southern and eastern districts (dzongkhags), as well as northern Bangladesh.
Other Aspects of India- Bhutan relations:
- India’s “energy exchange” initiative, which brings more Bhutanese and Nepali hydropower suppliers into the market and plans to distribute energy to Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, will drive economic growth and revenue within the region.
- This effort aligns with New Delhi’s attempt to bridge the economic gap with the northeastern states of India and attract development partners such as the World Bank and donor countries like Japan to participate in building a “sub-regional hub.”
Recent Developments in Bhutan:
- Bhutan’s economy has heavily relied on hydropower and tourism revenues, but it has faced challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic and concerns about global warming. Limited opportunities have driven educated youth and professionals to emigrate.
- To address these issues, the king has proposed the construction of a Special Economic Zone at Bhutan’s southern border with Assam and the development of an airport in Gelephu, which are expected to stimulate growth and investment in the country.
- Moreover, the Preferential Trade Agreement signed between Bangladesh and Bhutan in 2020 could boost Bhutanese exports of local products and create more markets for Indian and Bangladeshi producers in the sub-region.
- The successful and timely implementation of these ambitious plans is crucial. Given India’s challenges with Pakistan and the sanctions imposed on Myanmar after the 2021 coup, which have disrupted trade and land connectivity to the East, collaborating with neighboring countries to establish connectivity, markets, and energy links is the most sustainable way forward.
- In the long term, geopolitical conflicts and anti-globalization trends are pushing regional groups to become more united, something South Asia has struggled to achieve thus far.
As India concerns itself with China’s expanding influence in South Asian trade, infrastructure projects, and strategic ties, including worries about a Bhutan-China boundary agreement affecting Doklam and the vulnerability of India’s “Chicken Neck” (Siliguri Corridor) route, these ideas offer greater security and prosperity for the countries involved, particularly benefiting Bhutan, which has traditionally been a trusted partner of India in the region.
In July of this year, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) initiated a comprehensive consultation at the government’s request regarding the need for and potential mechanisms for regulating Over-The-Top (OTT) services. This action has generated significant controversy in the realm of net neutrality. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet access providers must treat all internet traffic equally. It ensures that all data is treated without discrimination by Internet service providers (ISPs), promoting an even playing field on the Internet.
GS3- IT, Computers
Upholding the principles of net neutrality is essential to foster a conducive environment for innovation, competition, and consumer welfare, especially in India. Analyse in the context of ongoing tussle between the telecom sector and Over-The-Top platforms. (15 marks, 250 words).
Complaints of the Telecom Sector Against OTT Platforms:
- For more than a decade, telecommunications companies have faced revenue challenges in traditional sectors like voice calls and Short Message Service (SMS) due to the competition posed by often free OTT services.
- Simultaneously, these companies have invested heavily in infrastructure upgrades to handle increased data traffic without experiencing a proportionate revenue increase.
- Additionally, they argue that OTT services are not subject to the same taxation and licensing fees, creating an uneven playing field.
- On the other side, the telecom companies insist that content providers like Netflix, Amazon Prime, and Disney+ Hotstar should share the costs of bandwidth.
- They claim that streaming platforms benefit from the infrastructure built and maintained by telecom companies, framing them as “free riders.”
The Other Side of the Coin:
- Telecom companies provide access to the Internet, but they do not own it. Consumers purchase data plans to access services. OTT platforms generate demand for internet access by offering desired services, and they pay for content delivery networks (CDNs) to enhance internet capacity.
- Telecom companies, in turn, provide connectivity to the internet and charge subscribers. If they cannot cover their costs, they can increase prices to maintain and upgrade their infrastructure.
- A fair market requires the full accounting of costs and benefits in the exchange price. Attempting to seek cross-subsidies instead of fully accounting for costs could warrant scrutiny from the Competition Commission.
- OTT services and internet access exist in distinct markets, offering different benefits to consumers. Therefore, separating costs between these two markets is logical.
- Telcos’ attempt to charge both consumers and content providers is not only greedy but also threatens net neutrality.
- If OTT platforms acquiesce to telcos’ demands, the costs would likely be passed down to subscribers through increased subscription fees or reduced service quality for platforms unable or unwilling to pay the toll. This outcome would harm consumers who rely on OTT services for entertainment, education, and professional purposes.
- The arguments by telcos’ is fundamentally flawed and sets a dangerous precedent that undermines the principle of net neutrality.
TRAI’s regulation on the prohibition of discriminatory tariffs for data services, released on February 8, 2016, was based on net neutrality. It forced the withdrawal of Facebook’s Free Basics platform in India and influenced other countries to adopt net neutrality. Recognizing the long-term consequences of conceding to telecom companies’ short-sighted demands is crucial for all stakeholders, as upholding net neutrality is essential to fostering innovation, competition, and consumer welfare in the digital era, particularly in countries like India where the Internet serves as the carrier of Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI).