The Indian government has asked the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to submit recommendations on net neutrality, in order to finalise its official policy on this controversial issue, reports ET. TRAI’s recommendations along with the report of the telecom department (DoT) committee on net neutrality will form the basis of the government’s final policy.
TRAI Chairman RS Sharma was quoted as stating that TRAI has received a letter from DoT on making on the net neutrality issue and will shortly float a consultation paper in this regard. The government’s move comes as currently, it has no policy on the subject, but is facing pressure from supporters of a free internet to come out with a broad framework which in clear terms supports an open internet.
Incidentally, this development comes over a month after TRAI said no to Facebook’s Free Basics platform. It issued the ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016’ which said that no company can charge subscribers with discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content. Thus zero-rated plans such as Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero were barred under the new regulation.
The regulator now plans to define net neutrality and focus on the key concerns, the ability of service providers to slow down or speed up access to websites as well as the issue of blocking and prioritising of data. While TRAI’s order banning differential tariff for data services fell within its jurisdiction, but the issue of net neutrality falls under the purview of DoT.
It is to be noted that TRAI’s consultation paper when floated would override its previous paper on regulating over-the-top (OTT) players that was issued under the chairmanship of Sharma’s predecessor Rahul Khullar. That paper had been widely criticised by net neutrality advocates. Even the internal committee of DoT last year had also recommended banning controversial zero-rating plans of Telcos. However, it had suggested a new law incorporating principles of net neutrality to replace the Indian Telegraph Act and called for “regulatory oversight” on certain OTT applications, such as WhatsApp’s calling service and Skype.
All in all, it had recommended maintaining a balance between ensuring an open Internet and rational use of traffic management by Telcos and Internet service providers (ISPs) for genuine needs.