Net neutrality: Trai launches paper to finalise policy, invites public views on issue

New Delhi: Regulator Trai invited public views on contentious net neutrality issue to finalise a framework that would ensure telecom operators do not manipulate network speeds for giving preference to any website or platform over internet.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, which has been discussing the issue of net neutrality (NN) in phases, has floated idea of identifying a body that should be responsible for monitoring and supervision of any NN violations.

"The purpose of this second stage of consultation is to proceed towards the formulation of final views on policy or regulatory interventions, where required, on the subject of NN," Trai said. Last date for public comments on the paper is 15 February and for counter comments is February 28. The consultation paper has been issued by Trai on reference sought by the Department of Telecom following suggestion of a High Level Committee that proposed regulation of domestic calls on Internet-based apps like Skype, Whatsapp and Viber by putting them at par with services offered by telecom operators — a recommendation that came under immediate attack from industry bodies and some sections of civil society.

Representational image. Image courtesy: Think stock

Representational image. Image courtesy: Think stock

The DoT Committee opposed platforms like Facebook's (later branded as Free Basics) that allow access to certain websites without mobile data charges, while suggesting that similar plans by Bharti Airtel be allowed with prior clearance from TRAI. However, the committee suggested liberal approach to app-based international calls. The regulator has already conducted the first round of consultation to understand key issues that need to be looked at for framing rules around net neutrality.

Trai in its pre-consultation paper dated 30 May, 2016, discussed issues such as the definition of NN, scope of traffic management practices, importance of unrestricted access and transparency, need for preserving customer privacy and national security. In the consultation paper, Trai said that telecom operators use a range of techniques to manage the safety, security and efficiency of their networks but it is important to ensure that such techniques should not be used in a discriminatory manner.

The regulator has sought public views to firm up definition of reasonable traffic management so that network management by telecom operators is not used in a discriminatory and any policy or framework on NN should not interfere with the ability of service providers to manage their networks in a reasonable and fair manner. Trai has sought views on defining core principles of net neutrality that should be linked to traffic management practices (TMP). It said that authorities in India are yet to take a final view on whether and how the term NN should be defined for the purposes of our legal or regulatory framework. "Based on review of various reasonable and non-reasonable traffic management practices in the Indian context, it is important to identify core principles of net neutrality for India and the types of practices that might be regarded as being in violation of these core principles," Trai said.

The regulator said that identifying violations of NN will require a robust monitoring and information seeking approach. "While transparency with respect to TMPs is critical, it has been pointed out that relying on telecom service providers (TSP) disclosures to self-report violations may not be sufficient for this purpose ... This highlights the key issue of identifying the body that should be responsible for monitoring and supervision of any NN violations," Trai said.

Trai has already barred preference to online content on the basis of pricing in February 2016 which led to ban on platforms like Facebook's Free Basics and Airtel Zero that were providing free access to select websites. The government has said that it will decide on framework for net neutrality after getting recommendations of Trai on the subject. The rules around net neutrality will have a substantial impact on Digital India. According to experts, net neutrality rules will be challenging task for government where it has to strive for balance between investment in telecom sector and growth of internet companies besides maintaining interest of consumers by providing them affordable telecom services.

Updated Date: Jan 05, 2017 09:24 AM

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