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January 13, 1998


Phoney threat

VSNL's warning to 'permanently debar'
Netizens using Web telephony is laughable.

Email this story to a friend. The Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited, India's monopoly Internet service provider and overseas telecommunications operator, has warned subscribers against using Web telephony technologies to make voice calls.

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In an email message to all subscribers, the government-run monopoly provider of international telecom links has threatened to "permanently debar'' subscribers who continued to make "illegal'' Internet telephone calls.

"You are advised not to use the Internet connection for telephony or fax applications. VSNL would be monitoring the use of Internet and those subscribers who are found to be violating the conditions of subscription would be permanently debarred from using Internet services,'' the message from VSNL's 'Helpdesk' said.

"We would like to inform our customers that this type of usage of the Internet is illegal and violative of the terms and conditions of the Internet subscription,'' the message added.

VSNL is currently the sole provider of commercial Internet access in the country. The company, which derives most of its revenues from international telephone calls, feels that increasing use of the Internet for telephone calls would affect its main business.

Supporters of Internet telephony, however, point out that Indian subscribers are attracted to Net telephony mainly because VSNL charges artificially high costs for international calls from the country.

They also doubt VSNL's ability to legally enforce its threats. Using multimedia equipment and special Internet telephony software, Net users can make voice calls over the World Wide Web for a fraction of the cost of normal long-distance telephone costs.

Recent months have seen several vendors openly advertise imported Net telephony software packages in trade magazines.

Some local companies have even tied up with international vendors to collect subscription charges in rupees. Though there is no exact estimate of the actual number of Net telephony users within the country, observers feel VSNL's move to warn users stems mainly from its fear of the long-term impact on its revenues.

It is felt that due to the digital nature of the Internet (which does not distinguish between voice and data traffic), VSNL would find it very difficult - if not impossible - to monitor which of its customers use Internet telephony.

They feel the company's control would be further whittled once private ISPs arrive on the scene. In this scenario, VSNL's latest missive is being interpreted as a move to scare modem vendors who bundle Net telephony software with their products and private software retailers from promoting Net telephony.

Most observers feel it would be better for the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India - rather than VSNL - to decide upon the issue. "Internet telephony is causing problems to telecom companies all over the world. In the US the Federal Communications Commission has refused to ban Net telephony.

"Instead of sending out such unseemly threats to its own subscribers, VSNL could petition the TRAI and get the regulator to suggest a balanced approach,'' one industry expert said.

- Compiled from the Indian media

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