TRAI’s Decision to Support Net Neutrality Will Go a Long Way

India’s telecom regulator TRAI has released comprehensive recommendations to ensure an open internet and prevent any discrimination in internet access in the country. According to experts, this principle of net neutrality can become the strongest in the world. The decision will redefine the market and allow more startups to flourish in the country.

Net neutrality is a concept that internet service providers must treat all data on the internet equally without any discrimination. It means that ISVs cannot choose to speed up or slow down a particular service or charge different rates for different kinds of data.

After spending one and a half years in consultation, the TRAI has come up with certain rules that would prevent internet service providers from providing “fast lanes” for certain kinds of data. It opposed any kind of discriminatory treatment of data which includes treatment to any specific content,blocking, slowing or offering preferntial speeds etc. The regulation forces them to be transparent about data management, and set up a committee to detect net neutrality violations.

“The core principles of net neutrality, non-discriminatory treatment of all content, treating internet as an open platform, we’ve upheld them,” TRAI Chairman RS Sharma said in a statement while Vodafone Group (VOD.L) said it would respond to the recommendations after studying the suggestions.

Harsh Walia, Associate Partner, Khaitan & Co said,“In line with its previous stand, TRAI has upheld the idea of a free and open internet. It has suggested amendments to the existing telecom license agreements which will make the regime for non-discriminatory treatment of content robust. TRAI has recommended same provisions for all licensees permitted to provide internet access services i.e. UASL, CMTS, UL, ISP and VNO so that there is uniformity in its implementation and no loop holes are left. It has also recommended certain exceptions to the applicability of non-discriminatory principles if they fall within the meaning of specialized services (which broadly means services where optimization is necessary to meet specific quality of service requirements). It may be important to state that while prescribing non-discriminatory principles, TRAI has taken care to recognize and acknowledge that telecom service providers need to carry reasonable traffic management practices for delivering IP traffic on best efforts and has therefore not framed regulations to specify reasonable traffic management as yet.

Surprisingly, all IoT services are not excluded from the principle of non-discrimination, but only those that will fall within the ambit of specialized services to the satisfaction of DoT. The IoT players not providing critical services may find it onerous, if DoT accepts this recommendation.

Further, TRAI has excluded content delivery networks (CDN) from the purview of restrictions on non-discriminatory treatment and have targeted only internet access service providers at the moment. While this provides a considerable relief to providers of CDN services, it puts TSPs in a precarious position, if this recommendation is accepted by DoT.”

 “COAI, and its members are currently reviewing TRAI’s recommendations issued today on Net Neutrality (NN). The recommendations are principally in agreement with the industry submissions regarding the narrow issue of Net Neutrality, as encompassing, no paid prioritization, no throttling, no fast lanes, while allowing network management, etc. We are at the same time disappointed that the authority did not adopt the industry recommendation to have a wider approach to Net Neutrality, where issues of OTT players, definition of NN to include issues around connecting the next 1 billion unconnected users, national development priorities, etc., were not considered.

Inclusion of IoT remains a huge concern, and we will need to look closely at this. 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. The DoT is already well positioned to investigate any violation of license conditions and it already has all the necessary enforcement mechanisms in place hence such a heavy handed approach is not necessary, as is, now being proposed by TRAI.

Moreover at a time, when globally, countries are adopting a more market oriented, and market driven approach to NN in order to not stifle development, innovation, proliferation and growth of the Internet, we believe TRAI should have adopted a light touch approach to NN,”  said Rajan S. Mathews, DG, COAI.

The Broadband India Forum (BIF) on the other hand welcomes the recommendations by TRAI and reaffirms its support to Net Neutrality. BIF supports an open Internet and believes that consumers should decide what to do online.

Commenting on the recommendations issued by TRAI, TV Ramachandran, President Broadband India Forum said, “BIF warmly welcomes these Recommendations by TRAI on Net Neutrality. We laud the Authority for upholding the freedom of the Internet and clearly enunciating all the concerned principles of Net Neutrality. The Recommendations are strongly in favour of consumers and in the overall interest of the general public. They constitute a very good foundation for Digital India.”

As recommended by TRAI, BIF supports that Net Neutrality Regulations should only be applicable to Telecom Service Providers/Internet Service Providers and not to the OTTs/CDNs/Specialized Services. Also, it supports the recommendation that there should be no blocking, throttling and discrimination of any content available on the Public Internet. BIF completely agrees to the TRAI recommendation of formation of industry led multi-stakeholder body for enforcement & monitoring work in a collaborative framework.

BIF underlines its commitment to the Digital India and empowering consumers with efficient and economical Broadband. While submitting its response to TRAI consultation paper on Net Neutrality, BIF had submitted that Net Neutrality principles that ensure that there is no interference to customers’ ability to access lawful online content, applications, and services of their choice. While protecting Net neutrality principles, TRAI must ensure consumer choice without compromising need to innovate.

According to reoports, TRAI wants the recommended rules to be clearly stated in the licence terms all telecom providers must adhere to in order to provide their services. If the Department of Telecommunications accepts this recommendation, internet providers may face penalties if they are found to be violating net neutrality.

The regulator has chosen not to directly issue the regulations but has submitted them to the Department of Telecommunications (parent organisation). This is in contrast to its actions in 2016 when it issued a regulation that effectively banned Facebook’s Free Basics service.

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