Telecom Ministry sets up committee to study net neutrality

NEW DELHI: Even as the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) recently issued a Consultation Paper on over-the-top (OTT) services, the Telecom Ministry has set up a committee of its own to examine the whole issue of Internet usage in the country including the newly-highlighted debate on net neutrality.


Telecom Ministry director (security) R Shakiya said that the committee was expected to finalise its recommendations towards the latter half of next month.


Although there was no plan for the committee to give a hearing to stakeholders before finalising its report, he assured stakeholders present at a meet organised by ASSOCHAM that he would forward its request to the Minister in this regard.


Meanwhile, he made it clear that OTT meant communication services like WhatsApp or WebChat and not sites related to e-governance. Similarly, internet governance is independent of net neutrality.


He also said that Digital India was a delivery-oriented scheme and it would be erroneous to confuse it with Internet growth.


Meanwhile, he added that India had asked the International Telegraphic Union (ITU) to conduct a study into how the traceability of the user can be brought in the present regulations.


ASSOCHAM itself is also expected to form a paper on net neutrality.


ASSOCHAM chairman for the National Council on Telecommunications T V Ramachandran, while holding that he was all for net neutrality and there was no reason for consumers to pay extra for services foisted on them, said telecom corporations have been discriminated against and wanted them to find ways to avoid this as far as net neutrality is concerned. 


He cited a US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) statement, which said that these “…new service offerings, depending on how they are structured, could benefit consumers and competition.” The FCC, however, has ruled against a move that violated net neutrality principles.


The net neutrality debate has arisen after Airtel launched a platform called Zero on which Internet companies could sign up to allow its users free-of-cost access.


Other speakers included Pradeep Kumar Verma, who is a Scientist with the Department of Information Technology, and ASSOCHAM senior director Ajay Sharma among others.


A representative of Asia Pacific Telecommunity (APT) wondered if TRAI, which sought views by 24 April, should interfere as net neutrality was more a matter of content than carriage and the regulator only dealt with carriage issues. He felt that the best body to deal with the issue was the Competition Commission of India (CCI).


Meanwhile, in its paper on OTT, TRAI devoted one full chapter on net neutrality. It suggested that to ensure a thriving and neutral Internet, the issues that needed to be addressed are:


i. The Internet must be kept open and neutral. Reachability between all endpoints connected to the Internet, without any form of restriction, must be maintained.


ii. All data traffic should be treated on an equitable basis no matter its sender, recipient, type, or content. All forms of discriminatory traffic management, such as blocking or throttling should be prohibited.


iii. Network service providers should refrain from any interference with internet users’ freedom to access content (including applications of their choice).


iv. There should be restricted use of packet inspection software (including storage and re-use of associated data) to control traffic.


v. Complete information on reasonable traffic management practices and justifications for the same must be accessible and available to the public. TSPs should be transparent and accountable to any changes in practices.


vi. Non-neutral treatment of traffic for “voluntary” law enforcement purposes must be prohibited unless there is a legal basis for it.


In view of this, TRAI sought to ask the stakeholders about their views on net-neutrality in the Indian context; what forms of discrimination or traffic management practices are reasonable and consistent with a pragmatic approach; what should or can be permitted; should the TSPs be mandated to publish various traffic management techniques used for different OTT applications; and how should the conducive and balanced environment be created such that TSPs are able to invest in network infrastructure and CAPs are able to innovate and grow. 


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