Backing the idea of free and open internet, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) upheld net neutrality in its recommendations on Tuesday. The telecom regulator had earlier issued a consultaion paper for over-the-top service. In 2016, Department of Telecommunications had sought TRAI's recommendations on net neutrality. Trai has also dealt with the issue of differential pricing of data access. Trai Chairman R S Sharma called for Internet, an important platform for India, being kept open and free, and not cannibalised. "No one owns Internet... so, it should be open and accessible to everyone," Sharma said, suggesting that service providers should not indulge in gate-keeping of this important platform.
Trai's recommendation comes days after United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) led by Ajit Pai suggested plans to scrap landmark 2015 rules intended to ensure a free and open internet. The move is likely to give service providers a say on what content consumers can access.
Sharma said Internet is an important platform for the country, especially in the context of innovation, startups, online transactions, various government applications, and the Digital India programme. "So, it is important that the platform is kept open and free and not cannibalised," Sharma said.
Asked about the Indian regulator upholding principles of net neutrality when, in fact, US Federal Communications Commission has proposed to roll back net neutrality rules of 2015, Sharma said Trai has kept the Indian context in mind while framing its recommendations.
"We have 500 million net subscribers and 1.3 billion population... big things will happen on Internet and it is important to keep it open," Sharma stressed.
"Networks should not prefer one content over other... should not block or offer fast lane (to certain content)," Sharma emphasised.
In its recommendations on principle of non-discriminatory treatment, Trai said, "A Licensee providing Internet Access Service shall not engage in any discriminatory treatment of content, including based on the sender or receiver, the protocols being used or the user equipment."
"The Licensee is prohibited from entering into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory treatment of content," it added.
Bringing Internet of things (IoT) under net neutrality, Trai said, "IoT as a class of services, are not excluded from the scope of the restrictions on non-discriminatory treatment. However, critical IoT services, which may be identified by DoT, and which specify the definition of specialised services, would be automatically excluded."
Sharma declined to comment on the time frame for making the latest net neutrality framework effective, saying the regulator has sent its recommendations to the telecom department and the latter has to now take a view.
Asked about the fine that will be imposed for any violation, Sharma said the penalty for violation of licence conditions will also be applicable in such cases and no separate penalty had been proposed by the regulator for violation of net neutrality rules.
Trai has also stated that Content Delivery Networks which enable telecom operators to deliver content within their network without going through public Internet should be exempted.Salient features of recommendations
"The licensing terms should be amplified to provide explicit restrictions on any sort of discrimination in Internet access based on the content being assessed, the protocols being used or the user equipment being deployed. Content would include all content, application, services and any other data, including its end-point information, that can be accessed or transmitted over the internet," said the regulator.
"The discriminatory treatment in the context of treatment of content would include any form of discrimination, restriction or interference in the treatment of content, including practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content."
"The service providers should be restricted from entering into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory treatment based on content, sender or receiver, protocols, or user equipment."
The scope of proposed principles on non-discriminatory treatment is applicable specifically to "Internet Access Services."
"Specialised service i.e services other than Internet Access Services which are optimised for specific content, protocols or user equipment, and where the optimisation is necessary in order to meet specific quality of service requirements shall be exempted from the principles of discriminatory treatment," said the regulator.
Department of Telecommunications (DoT) may identify specialised services. However, specialised services may be offered by the service provider only if they are not usable (or offered) as a replacement for Internet Access Services; and the provision of such services is not detrimental to the availability and overall quality of Internet Access Services.
"The Internet Access Service Providers may take reasonable measurement for traffic management, provided the same are proportionate, transient and transparent. They may also take reasonable measures to preserve integrity and security of network, for provision of Emergency Services, implementation of an order of the court or direction of the Government, or in pursuance of an international treaty."