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Better, faster Net options needed
The Asian Age, February 10, 2017

By Pradeep S Mehta and Rohit Singh
Information provisioning, more than that available, can help consumers compare and decide on their purchases.

Indians are conventionally sensitive when it comes to buying products. What may work in other geographies may not do so in India. Considering that Dunkin’ Donuts is relying more on burger sales rather than donuts and Dell is selling more computers through physical stores than online (in India), there is obviously a need to reinvent the wheel for business strategies by global giants. Consumers nowadays are better informed and demand customised products, based on their need, rather than what the seller wants them to take. This “no one size fits all” approach is applicable to Internet services as well. The usage and the requirement differs with every consumer, so does the demand for differential products.

 Thus, it is essential to inform consumers if what they are buying fills their need, or else the quality of experience (QoE) diminishes. It’s thus suggested to businesses that they either respond to the customer or simply wither!
Prime Minister Narendra Modi is giving India a strong digital push, which is reflected from several initiatives such as the JAM trinity and recent initiatives in the payment space to have a “cash lite” system. Despite the intent, the quality of services (QoS) for Internet services in India is not good. A report by Akamai, a content delivery network, ranks India at 114 in terms of average Internet speed among countries across the globe and lowest in Asia-Pacific and Brics. India scores a measly 3.5 Mbps on average Internet speed, while countries like South Korea are surging ahead at 29 Mbps.

However, it’s not all about speed. Internet services in India are marred by other quality issues as well, such as reliability, coverage, downtime, etc. A study done by CUTS International, showed that consumers are, in general, dissatisfied with their mobile Internet services. It observed that there exists a wide gap between the advertised and the actual QoS delivered by Internet service providers (ISPs). It highlighted that either the ISPs don’t publish the entire set of information or the services do not match the promises. Usually the information ISPs provide to consumers is only about the maximum download speed and data limit.

There are other technical parameters which critically impact the Internet QoS such as latency, bandwidth, losses/chokes, etc. Since the ISPs do not publish this information anywhere, consumers are completely oblivious to these terms. Moreover, due to information asymmetry, it becomes difficult for consumers to make an informed choice while purchasing an Internet plan. Thus a tool is required, which can provide consumers with a complete set of reader-friendly information on Internet plans on offer by different ISPs, and enable them to make an informed choice.
Information provisioning, more than that available, can help consumers compare and decide on their purchases. However, in case of Internet services, there is not much information available. Hence, consumers are unable to compare between services, which results in an uninformed choice making. Uninformed choice results in clash of expectations, which in turn causes the QoE to dip. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recommends that ISPs should provide their customers with sufficient information on the services they provide. This should include QoS targets, pricing information, clear description of the services and customer helpline options and standards.
Since the usage pattern of consumers for Internet services varies drastically, the need for complete unambiguous information is even more critical. Some consumers are more inclined to watching videos on Internet, while some indulge in video calling. Some do extensive gaming while some use it for emails/chatting. Of these, some of the usage is highly sensitive to parameters like latency, bandwidth and chokes/losses, while other may not be. Hence, easy availability of such information can play a crucial role in an informed decision-making.

The telecom regulator of Singapore, Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), has directed ISPs to publish accurate and complete information for the services they claim to provide or advertise. This ensures transparency on the services offered by ISPs and also enhances the overall customer satisfaction. India can also adopt a similar model, which can help consumers in choosing between services. One such model may be “labelling” of Internet services.
Consumers have already experienced the concept of labelling for products, through the likes of nutrition label on prepacked food products and efficiency labels on electrical products. Information provided on such product labels has been helping consumers to make choices on purchases and also teach them the way to use the product efficiently, price, content and relevant information. Internet services can also be labelled where critical information is provisioned to consumers in a standard format.

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has introduced broadband labels to provide broadband consumers with easy-to-understand information about price and performance. Consumers International (CI), the global coalition of voluntary consumer organisations, based on a global consumer survey, has also advocated a broadband nutrition label. The label sets out important variables in a standardised, easily-understood and comparable form, including speed, reliability, service limits and conditions, pricing and other information such as privacy policy.
Internet labels, specially for broadband, can help consumers in knowing the actual terms of contract with the ISP and expected QoS. Apart from enabling comparison between services, this will also instil competition among ISPs, which will further result in a quest for providing best QoS to consumers than the competition.

The authors work for CUTS International


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