Govt extends deadline for comments on net neutrality to 20 August

The government has extended the deadline for submission of public comments on the proposed policy framework for 'net neutrality' till 20 August in view of a sudden surge in the volume of online dialogue over what constitutes a neutral Net.

The last date for submission of comments and views on the proposed internet policy framework was to close on 15 August, but has been extended due to sudden surge in public comments towards the close.

''Last date for submission of suggestions and comments on report of committee on Net Neutrality through discussion forum under has been extended till August 20, 2015,'' the Department of Telecom said in a notice on its website.

The total number of public comments on the net neutrality recommendations by a panel set up by telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has risen to over 33,600, from just around 700 on 14 August.

This was due mainly to campaigns by online groups like 'Save The Internet' and 'AIB'.

Industry groups like Facebook and some mobile service providers have on the other hand been seeking support for their own version of the internet through which they claim to connect the unconnected.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) had, in April, received over one million comments on its paper over net neutrality with majority demanding implementation of ideal net neutrality.

Net neutrality calls for equal treatment to all internet traffic without any priority treatment to an entity or company on the basis of payment for content or service providers such as telecom companies, which is seen as discriminatory.

The panel has proposed regulation of domestic calls through internet-based apps like Skype, Whatsapp and Viber by putting them on par with services offered by telecom operators.

However, the committee has suggested a liberal approach to app-based international calls.

The pricing difference is around 12.5 times in the case of a voice call and 16 times for messages between services offered by telecom operators and OTT players, as per data put together by telecom regulator TRAI.

It all started with Indian telecom major Bharti Airtel announcing a plan to separately charge for VoIP calls at standard rates.

Based on standard rates, usage of each GB of data for VoIP on 3G network would have cost about Rs4,000, while the same on 2G network would cost about Rs10,000.

This at a time when Airtel was selling 1GB of 3G data for Rs249 and 1 GB of 2G internet for Rs175. The company withdrew separate charge plan following protest from public.

Airtel's plan to launch a zero rating platform, which allowed free access of those web sites that paid for joining the platform, extended the debate further.

The DoT is expected to firm up regulatory options after considering public opinion and hearing out the industry and based in suggestions by telecom regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.