Telecom regulator TRAI backs Net neutrality

Comes out with a series of recommendations after a long process of consultations on the issue.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Tuesday came out in strong support of Net neutrality in a series of recommendations following a long process of consultations on the issue.

“The licensing terms should be amplified to provide explicit restrictions on any sort of discrimination in Internet access based on the content being accessed, the protocols being used or the user equipment being deployed,” TRAI said in the recommendations. 


Covers all 

The content mentioned includes all content, applications, services and any other data, including its end-point information, that can be accessed or transmitted over the Internet. 

Warning against any “discriminatory treatment” including blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds to any content, TRAI stated, “The scope of the proposed principles on non-discriminatory treatment apply specifically to ‘Internet Access Services’, which are generally available to the public.”

These recommendations have been arrived at based on the pre-consultation paper issued in May 2016 to identify key issues and a detailed consultation paper in January 2017 which focussed on identifying the requirements, design, scope and implementation of Net neutrality framework in India. Based on the responses received, open house discussions were held in three cities. 

No arrangement 

In a clear message to service providers, one of the recommendations reads, “The service providers should be restricted from entering into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory treatment based on content, sender or receiver, protocols or user equipment.”

In February 2016, TRAI had barred telecom providers from charging differential rates for data services in its Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016, effectively blocking such attempts by Facebook and Airtel.

Facebook had earlier rolled out its Free Basics service in partnership with Reliance Communications as a “differential service” and lobbied hard for it on social media which put it at loggerheads with the telecom regulator.

To monitor violations, TRAI has recommended the establishment of a collaborative mechanism in the form of a multi-stakeholder body which would be responsible for developing technical standards for monitoring and enforcement of the principles.

Mixed reactions

There were mixed reactions to TRAI’s recommendations on Net neutrality. The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) observed that the recommendations were “principally” in agreement with the industry submissions regarding the narrow issue of Net neutrality but were disappointed that the authority did not adopt the industry recommendation to have a wider approach. 

“A committee to review and decide on network management violations is unnecessarily bureaucratic, and not in keeping with light touch regulation or the ease of doing business,” COAI stated.

In contrast, the Internet Association of India (IAMAI) called the recommendations “progressive and in line with the debates” in the industry and user groups.

“The debate of Net neutrality was about the freedom and choice of access for end users,” the IAMAI said and added that Internet in India, unlike possibly in the U.S. or China, is going to be ‘free and open’ upholding the democratic principles of the country.

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Printable version | Aug 2, 2020 1:41:19 AM |

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