More reports on: Telecom Regulatory Authority of India

Trai net neutrality guidelines a positive step, agree experts

29 November 2017

The country's digital and startup community as well as commentators in general have hailed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's recommendations in support of net neutrality, calling them progressive steps that will prevent stonewalling of emerging services by established players.

On Tuesday, TRAI recommended that internet service providers (including telecom operators) be restricted from engaging in any discriminatory treatment of content or entering into any agreement that has such effect. Discrimination, whether based on the sender or receiver of the content, the protocols used or the equipment being used to access the internet is prohibited.

In addition, TRAI has recommended specific rules against blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential treatment to any content.

After two years of deliberations, TRAI has recommended amending licence agreements to prevent any kind of discrimination on internet services based on content, apps or any other service or data that travels on the internet.

It is a recommendation – TRAI is not authorised to make final rules, which will require the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to amend the license agreements that govern all providers of internet access. But by laying down the ground rules, TRAI has paved the way for smooth passage of these amendments by the government.

The principle of net neutrality stipulates that services on the internet must be equally accessible to all, and accessible at the same speed and cost, and telecom operators cannot discriminate on any ground.

Information technology body Nasscom said in a statement that the multi-stakeholder approach involving content providers, service providers, access providers, research, and academia to collaboratively monitor violations and make recommendations to the authority on regulations and standards is a welcome move that will facilitate fair, alert and effective implementation.

''Today's recommendations will promote equitable access to the internet for every citizen,'' it said. ''It would ensure a level-playing field for IT and OTT services providers to innovate and customise in India and provide a constantly expanding range of new services relevant to every individual.''

Nasscom said the recommendations should be implemented speedily to help deliver on India's pledge to the global agenda to ensure every citizen's right to unfettered access to the internet.

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) said the special provisions made for IoT (internet of things), specialised services, etc, reflect forward-looking aspect of TRAI's recommendations that take into account the needs of the foreseeable future.

''By preventing larger content / service companies stonewalling emerging services by colluding with ISPs, the TRAI recommendations ensure level-playing field in access, enabling emerging service providers to reach out to target audiences at same terms with their peers,'' it said.

IAMAI said the recommendations will ensure that that customers are not coerced into walled gardens set up in collusion between different agencies of the digital ecosystem. ''Internet in India, unlike possibly in the US or China, is going to be 'free and open' upholding the democratic principles of our country,'' it said.

According to the Mint, as India aspires to become a $1-trillion digital economy, it is vital to preserve the democracy of the internet and users' right to freedom of speech and expression.

Any strategy that aims to enhance operational viability or flexibility of telecom service providers at the cost of crippling India's much-vaunted start-up and entrepreneurial ecosystem would have been short-sighted, it says.

According to Business Standard, it can now be said with some certainty that TRAI's support for net neutrality is among the strongest in the world. It now stands alongside European regulators, in contrast to its US counterpart the Federal Communication Commission, whose Trump-appointed chairman Ajit Pai proposed a roll back of net-neutrality rules last week (See: FCC's Ajit Pai set to dismantle Obama-era net neutrality rules).

Ramanjit Singh, policy director of think tank AccessNow, told The Economic Times that most of the recommendations are in line with the expectations and are positive. ''But it is a bit disappointing that Trai has not issued interim regulations,'' he said. ''Also, there is more clarity required on the traffic management practices and the structure of the enforcement body.''

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