Telecom regulator backs net neutrality

Net neutrality

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Tuesday came out in strong support of net neutrality in a series of recommendations, following a long process of consultations on the issue.

To monitor and investigate whether service providers are adhering to the rules, the regulator also suggested that a multi-stakeholder body be set up, led by industry, and comprising members representing different telecom and Internet service providers, large and small content providers, representatives from research, academia, civil society organisations and consumer bodies. This was considered "gate-keeping" and creating "walled gardens" in cyber space which is against the concept of Net neutrality.

"The use of Internet should be facilitated in such a manner that it advances the free speech rights of citizens, by ensuring plurality and diversity of views, opinions and ideas", recommended TRAI.

When asked to comment on the US Federal Communications Commission proposal to roll back net neutrality rules of 2015, Sharma said Trai has kept the Indian context in mind while framing its recommendations. Internet access services should be governed by a principle that restricts any form of discrimination or interference in the treatment of content, including practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content. It has proposed to bar services providers from creating partnerships that will have a discriminatory effect based on content, sender or receiver, protocols or user equipment, except in special cases like court orders and government directions.

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The regulator has however exempted content delivery networks within a telco's own network from any restrictions on non-discriminatory treatment.

Making an exception for specialized services, the regulator said such services could be provided as long as the service provider wasn't resorting to them as a replacement for "Internet Access Services' that are at the heart of net neutrality". Internet firms lauded Trai's recommendations, while telecom operators said that the regulator has applied a "narrow definition" to the topic. Meanwhile, activists said the report did not mention a timeframe for implementing the recommendations.

The regulator will come out with a consultation paper on over-the-top (OTT) players soon.

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