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Telecom Regulatory Authority of India takes strong pro-net neutrality stance

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India takes strong pro-net neutrality stance

On November 28, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India
(TRAI) released
its Recommendations
on "Net Neutrality"
, following a long, multistage consultation
process. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. For instance, under these principles, internet service providers cannot intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.(In 2016, TRAI ruled
against discriminatory access or differential pricing for data services, ending
the operations of Facebook’s Free
Basics
in India.)    

TRAI has recommended that all licenced telecom service
providers (TSPs) providing Internet services in India should be bound to follow
the “core principles” of net neutrality. These principles may be made part of
License conditions and the Licensor may issue guidelines from time to time as
learning process matures.

This would include explicit restrictions on any sort of
discrimination in Internet access, based on the content being accessed, the
protocols being used or the user equipment being deployed. Content would
include all content, applications, services and any other data, including its
end-point information, that can be accessed or transmitted over the Internet

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.

TRAI also recommends that the service providers should be
restricted from entering into any arrangement, agreement or contract, with any
person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory treatment based
on content, sender or receiver, protocols or user equipment.

Internet of Things (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 the Department of
Telecom (DoT), and which satisfy the
definition of specialised services, would be automatically excluded.

Content Delivery Networks (CDNs), which enable a Telecom Service
Provider (TSP) to deliver content within its network without going through the
public Internet, are exempted from the restrictions.

The Internet Access Service Providers may take reasonable
measurements 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.

TSPs shall be required to declare their Traffic Management
Practices (TMP), as and when deployed and the impact it may have had on the
users. The disclosure requirements shall also include information about
specialised services, direct or indirect arrangements entered into by them.

For monitoring and investigation of violations, a
collaborative mechanism has been recommended to be established in the form of a
multi-stakeholder body comprising members representing different categories of
TSPs and ISPs, large and small content providers, representatives from research
and academia, civil society organisations and consumer representatives. This
body would be responsible for developing technical standards pertaining to
monitoring of TMPs and enforcement of the principles on non-discriminatory
treatment and making appropriate recommendations to the Authority.

A cell in the DoT headquarters may be set up to deal with Net
Neutrality related cases. In case of violations, the existing prescribed
procedure may be followed, involving a two-stage process of review and appeal
to ensure that decisions are objective, transparent and just.

Tariff shall be regulated by TRAI as at present. Whenever a
new tariff is introduced it should be tested against the principles of Net
Neutrality.

Post implementation, complaint regarding a tariff violating
principle of Net Neutrality may be dealt with by DoT. Net Neutrality issues
arising out of traffic management would have reporting and auditing requirements,
which may be performed and enforced by DoT. QoS (quality of service) issues
fall within the jurisdiction of TRAI. Similarly reporting related to
transparency requirements will need to be dealt with by TRAI.

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