In a move that will ensure open and free Internet in India, the government has approved the principle of Net neutrality. This means that telecom and Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet equally, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, site, platform, or application. They cannot engage in practices such as blocking, slowing down or granting preferential speeds to any content.
The Telecom Commission (TC), the highest decision-making body in the Department of Telecom, on Wednesday approved the recommendation made eight months ago by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on the subject. “The TC today [Wednesday] approved Net neutrality as recommended by TRAI,” Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan said after a meeting.
Some critical services out of the purview of norms
She, however, added that certain emerging and critical services would be kept out of the purview of these norms.
A separate committee has been set up under the Department of Telecom (DoT) to examine what these critical services will be. These may include autonomous vehicles, digital healthcare services or disaster management.
In November 2017, the regulator batted in favour of Net neutrality – which has been one of the most hotly debated topics in India for over 4 years now.
The regulator had said, “Internet access services should be governed by a principle that restricts any form of discrimination or interference in the treatment of content, including practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content.”
This principle, it said, would apply to any discriminatory treatment based on the sender or receiver, the network protocols, or the user equipment, but not to specialised services or other exclusions. It also said that these would not apply to “reasonable traffic management practices” by the service provider.
In the U.S.
India’s decision to uphold Net neutrality assumes greater significance, given that in the U.S., the rules on Net neutrality were repealed. The decision, which came into effect in June, paves the way for service providers to block or slow down access to particular content for users.
To implement Net neutrality, the regulator had recommended that the terms of licence agreements that govern the provision of Internet services in India be amended “to incorporate the principles of non-discriminatory treatment of content along with the appropriate exclusions and exceptions.”
It further recommended the establishment of a multi-stakeholder not-for-profit body for monitoring and enforcing these principles.