Net Neutrality

TRAI (Again) Recommends in Favor of Net Neutrality

Just as the US moves away from net neutrality, India's regulators have endorsed it. In a recommendation paper published last week, India's Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has argued that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be allowed to give preferential treatment to any specific content, or use discriminatory practices to block or slow down traffic from particular websites or applications.

This is in direct contrast to the recent approach adopted by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in the US. While the agency had ruled in favor of net neutrality in 2015, a new administration plans to repeal the net neutrality rules through a vote on December 14. (See Pai's FCC Raises Alarms at Competitive Carriers.)

While the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is backing net neutrality, it is proposing that service providers be allowed to use traffic management practices (TMPs) as long as they are "transparent, nondiscriminatory and proportionate." It also wants to exempt from the "nondiscriminatory" rules so-called specialized services, which are developed for specific purposes and require a minimum quality of service. It has asked the Department of Telecommunications to come up with a definition of specialized services. TRAI has also requested that DoT set up a multi-stakeholder body for the monitoring and investigation of violations.

Predictably enough, Indian service providers are not thrilled about these recommendations. Operators are "disappointed that the authority did not adopt the industry recommendation to have a wider approach to net neutrality, where issues of OTT [over-the-top] players, definition of net neutrality to include issues around connecting the next 1 billion unconnected users, national development priorities, etc., were not considered," said Rajan Mathews, the director general of the Cellular Operators Association of India, in a press statement.

Telcos have also continued to lobby for the inclusion in the regulatory framework of OTT players, which have clearly had a significant impact on telco revenues, but the TRAI has resisted their approaches.

For the COAI, another concern is about the much-hyped Internet of Things (IoT). "Inclusion of IoT remains a huge concern, and we will need to look closely at this," said Mathews in his statement. "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."

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The net neutrality issue could be crucial to the development of an IoT ecosystem, as startups work on designing products and solutions that will make connected devices a reality. India has a considerable number of startups, and a significant percentage are working in the IoT area. Some companies are concerned that development and marketing will prove enormously difficult unless net neutrality is enforced.

This is the second time TRAI has come out with proposals in favor of net neutrality. About two years ago, social networking giant Facebook launched a controversial service called Free Basics, which offered consumers free access to certain websites. Perceived as an affront to net neutrality, this service and others like it were banned in February 2016. TRAI also indicated that it would levy a fine of 50,000 Indian rupees ($775.25) per day, up to a maximum penalty of INR5 million ($77,525), for any violation of these regulations. (See India Deals Death Blow to Facebook's Free Basics .)

Some observers have argued that there is hardly any evidence of net neutrality violations within India. But as more Indians and Indian businesses turn to the Internet, policymakers are determined to ensure the playing field is level.

— Gagandeep Kaur, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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