Regulators

TRAI's final recommendations on net neutrality likely by September

NEW DELHI: India’s telecoms and broadcast regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is expected to come out with its final recommendations on net neutrality next month.

TRAI chairman R S Sharma told indiantelevision.com  that after detailed discussions were held in Bengaluru last month on the consultation paper on Net Neutrality (NN) issued mid-2016, a similar round has been fixed for 30 August 2017 in Delhi after which TRAI will begin work on its final recommendations to ensure national security and customer privacy.

However, the issue of NN has different meanings in different parts of the globe and depends on how regulators view the issue in terms of their own markets. For example, the present FCC chairman Ajit Pai is in favour of repealing of a regulatory framework that allowed his predecessor to establish robust rules of the road for the internet and is in the process of dismantling the previous regime’s regulatory framework for NN. In Asia too, NN is defined and regulated differently and there is no uniform approach to the issue.

One of the chief arguments for Net Neutrality, senior tech journalists have argued, is that without rules in place, the internet could well grow into a system of tiers, akin to cable television, in which large content companies would dominate because of their ability to pay for better access to consumers.

Asked whether the tariff order -- which has been in suspended animation for few months now owing to some stakeholders moving Indian courts against its implementation -- will come into effect on 2 September 2017, Sharma refused to commit anything as the matter would be subject to the outcome of court decisions.

Referring to a paper on data protection, he said the present aim was only to start a discussion on the subject. He denied that the consultation paper had anything to do with the controversy around Apple refusing to cooperate on certain demands of the Indian regulator or had been prompted by it. “In fact, the controversy had been kicked off just over a week earlier whereas the paper had been under preparation earlier,” Sharma said.

Elaborating on TRAI’s guiding principles, the chairman said that the organisation issues a paper or initiates a public debate or comes out with recommendations  for “transparency, (to) ensure non-discrimination, consumer protection, industry's growth and encourage positive competition.”

At a time when online piracy and theft of online data is gaining momentum in India, as also criticism of the country’s lack of a comprehensive legislation to protect data, including those mentioned in Adhaar, Sharma said TRAI has taken all the necessary steps to protect consumer data that it collects via its various apps.

Though Sharma refused to be drawn into the online piracy issue (largely that falls under the domain of Commerce Ministry), he did say that inter-operable set top boxes, being tested by some government organisations in collaboration with TRAI, had provisions for dealing with pirated software.

When questioned about the permission granted to Tamil Nadu government owned Arasu to distribute digital TV signals and consequent leanings towards similar set-up in the states of Telangana and Punjab, Sharma said the Authority had thrice given recommendations advising that state governments and political or religious groups should not be permitted to enter the broadcasting sector. “We still stand by those recommendations. But the ministry (MIB) has said the recommendations were under consideration,” he added.  

He agreed that technologies were converging and said that regulations, attitude and outlook will “soon have to move in that direction.”

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