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TRAI issues fresh paper seeking views on Net Neutrality definition

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NEW DELHI: India’s telecoms regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) yesterday floated another consultation paper on Net Neutrality (NN) seeking to establish a framework that allows Internet users the `freedom of expression’ and non discriminatory access to the Net.

In the discussion paper, TRAI stated having identified the India-specific context, the next challenge is to examine what should be the country’s policy response on issues relating to any form of discriminatory treatment in the provision of access to the Internet and seeks views on framing a regulatory framework that would ensure that access to content on the internet is neither ‘blocked’, ‘throttled’ nor ‘preferentially treated’ by ISPs and telecom service providers (TSPs).

“The idea of equal or nondiscriminatory treatment of traffic that flows on the Internet resonates in the NN principles adopted by various jurisdictions, although the term itself does not necessary feature in their regulatory instruments. The EU regulations, for instance, create ‘common rules to safeguard equal and nondiscriminatory treatment of traffic’ without expressly using the term NN. Given that key terms such as `equal treatment’ are still contested, many have urged against a rigid definition of NN. This was also the view expressed by the DoT (Department of Telecoms) committee in its report where it stated that ‘the crux of the matter is that we need not hard code the definition of Net Neutrality but assimilate the core principles of Net Neutrality and shape the actions around them’,” TRAI said in the consultation paper.

The issue of Net Neutrality has been occupying Indian mind space for the last 13 months with pro and anti neutrality views floating around without actually addressing the issue that is also a topic of debate in developed markets like the US, Europe and in Asia. TRAI, which has dealt with the issue in a piecemeal fashion (zero rating plans), for example, earlier in 2016, refers to US regulator FCC stand on the issue in its present paper. However, with a new government led by President-elect Trump to take over later this month, even FCC stand may change on the issue of Net Neutrality.

Some of the questions raised by TRAI in its present 60+ pages paper on Net Neutrality include the following:

# How should “Internet traffic” and providers of “Internet services” be un-derstood in the NN context?

# Should certain types of specialised services, enterprise solutions, Inter¬net of Things, etc be excluded from its scope?

How should such terms be defined?

# How should services provided by content delivery networks and direct interconnection arrangements be treated?

# In the Indian context, which of the following regulatory approaches would

be preferable?

# Whether and how should different categories of traffic be objectively defined from a technical point of view for this purpose?

# Should application-specific discrimination within a category of traffic be viewed more strictly than discrimination between categories?

# How should preferential treatment of particular content, activated by a users choice and without any arrangement between a telecom service provider and content provider be treated?

The paper, however, does seem to highlight that telecom service providers have to deploy certain traffic management practices to ensure that the wireless networks are able to maintain a certain quality of standards. Hence, it also attempts to establish the framework for what it calls “reasonable traffic management practices” to ensure the wireless networks do not get choked or congested, Economic Times reported yesterday evening on its website.

All stakeholders will have to give in their responses by February 28, 2017after which the telecom regulator will deliberate upon the responses and make its final recommendations to the government.

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