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Net telephony at last

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DQW Bureau
New Update





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India will formally join another select band of nations which have legalized

telephone services through the Internet on April 1. India's dominant telecom

service providers, like their counterparts elsewhere, had used the full power of

their monopoly to shape public policies to delay this customer-friendly service

as much as possible. That they have not triumphed fully and have only delayed

the inevitable by a few years is a true tribute to the unstoppable march of

technological progress.

Yet, the hands of these vested interests are visible in the latest government

notification about the opening up of the Net-based telephone services. It is not

open to all service providers. Only the existing Internet Service Providers

(ISPs) will be allowed to offer such services. Why? No particular reason except

that the nation's policy makers would like to retain their control and ensure

their relevance as long as possible.

Then there are other caveats. ISPs have to get their license agreements

amended to take up the phone services. Obviously, they have to meet the right

persons and meet the 'right' criterion to be given the right to provide

Net-based phone services.

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There are more absurd restrictions. Net based telephone services could be

provided only between PCs in India to PCs in other countries and within the

country, PCs in India to telephones abroad but not within the country and IP

based H 323/SIP based terminals in India to similar terminals in India and

abroad, This clearly means that the government does not want customers to get

full benefits of cheap Internet-based telephone services. That is why it has

restricted such services to India based landline telephones and cellular

telephones. With this sleight of hand, the government has restricted the market

place for these services domestically. The only saving grace so far is that no

specific tariff has been fixed for such services. It will be upto the service

providers to charge based on what customers will be willing to pay. Here there

are not too many options for the service providers. Because, even with the

latest technologies, the quality of PC-based telephone services will not match

that of conventional services. Overseas call rates have been slashed recently.

Hence Net-based services will have to be competitive with the conventional

services. Moreover, the Instant Messenger (IM) technology which is becoming

increasingly popular worldwide will offer stiff competition to Net-based

telephone services. The IM technology is all set to make further inroads if

compatibility issues between the dominant providers are sorted out.

The government's 'control everything' syndrome is evident even in this

service. The service providers will have to set up expensive monitoring system

to offer government agencies the ability to keep track to the messages going

out. It is a different matter that various government agencies are not yet in a

position to deploy latest technologies to have meaningful, realtime analysis of

information gathered from Cyber space. Even the mighty US government's heavily

funded Intelligence agencies are several years behind in analyzing information

gathered from the telecom circuits.

The nation has lost over three years due to the inaction of policy makers to

allow Net telephony. However, it is heartening to note that the same agencies

which were fully opposed to Net-based phone services have swallowed their pride

and are now making it possible, even in a truncated form. Hopefully, other

policy glitches will be ironed out in similar manner in the coming months. The

major lesson from this issue is that it is fruitless to stop the march of

technologies which immensely benefit customers. The Net-based telephone services

have proved this convincingly.

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