Understanding – Net Neutrality In India

 Net Neutrality is the most controversial topics of our times, and as soon as something new comes up emotions flare up. Free internet activists are fighting this war for long now, and the recent move by the Indian regulator is a relief for many.

On the other hand, it annoys some large companies that have big plans to make even bigger bucks by “Breaking the Internet”.

Net Neutraility in India RS Sharma

Notably, Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) shared its recommendations on Net Neutrality on 28th November 2017. These new guidelines give a boost to the concept of the open and free internet.

Trai Chairman Mr. R S Sharma has said that “No One Owns the internet and it is should be open and accessible to everyone. ISPs have the power to become the gatekeepers for this important platform, but they should not do so.”

Back in February 2016, Trai shared recommendations on the discriminatory pricing for data by ISPs. That was a serious blow to services like the Airtel Zero and Internet.ORG from Mark Zuckerberg.

To recall, Airtel Zero offered free access to some of the Apps and services on Airtel network. Making that a preferential treatment. Whereas the Internet.org allowed people to visit some of the partner websites on the Reliance network, without the need to pay for the internet. Both are shot down by TRAI.

Why Internet.org and Airtel Zero Must Lose

Even before that, in 2014, Airtel attempted a differential data charging for Voice calls made using data. That was withdrawn by the company after a public backlash.

Trai Net Neutrality Recommendation Paper Key Points

The current Trai recommendation paper deals with the issue of offering discriminatory treatment of Internet Access, content consumed, protocol deployed or equipment used.

Trai has clearly stated that they are against the preferential treatment of a particular content by the ISPs in terms of providing better speed or access to it. Or to block or throttle another content provider who doesn’t have a tie-up with the ISP.

What does it mean for Start-Ups and Small Players?

This is a positive move by TRAI for Net Neutrality in India. As India is a growing economy and allowing preferential treatment will make sure the startups and smaller companies are at a disadvantage, compared to larger media houses, which can easily buy the special access from ISPs.

Restrictions on ISPs and TSPs to Stop Preferential Treatment

TRAI in the 54-page long recommendation paper has also shared the necessary changes in the license conditions, to ensure penalties can be taken from the non-abiding ISPs. To ensure transparency and enforce the rules, TRAI has also suggested a multi-stakeholder body to be formed, which can monitor and ensure the policies.

Net Neutrality in India Protest

Telecom Service Providers (TSPs) and ISPs are prohibited to enter into any contract or legally binding agreement to offer a preferential treatment on the internet based on content, sender, receiver, protocol or equipment.

“Mr. R S Sharma also said that Intenet is a very important platform for a country like India and it is vital to keep it free and open … No one owns the internet and so everyone owns it.”

On the other hand, the Telcom Operators association (COAI – Cellular Operators Association of India) has termed the move of setting up a multi-stakeholder body to monitor the violations as draconian and unnecessary.

Telecom Operators are saying that this move if implemented can disrupt smooth services. Also, TRAI should have considered a more market-driven approach to handle the issue rather than offering such strict measures.

A more market-driven approach means an approach, similar to the US, to benefit operators like Verizon and AT&T, and to offer differential tariffs.

Traffic Management And Content Delivery Network

However, TRAI is allowing TSPs to practice Traffic management practices (TMPs). Which means the telecom operators can regulate the traffic at specific times to ensure outage or disruption of services. Also, they will have to be transparent in reporting and will have to document the consumer impact of such measures.

Additionally, TRAI is exempting specialized services and CDNs (Content Delivery Networks) from the Net Neutrality. The specialized services like a bank buying a pipeline of data traffic for internal operations, or a medical surgery from a remote location, such cases can have a prioritized access.

IOT – The real-time IOT (Internet of Things) services like Autonomous Cars and similar services are not guided by the principles set by TRAI guidelines, as these have critical connectivity requirements. However, other non-critical IOT applications fall under the purview of the rules and TRAI will monitor them for violations.

Also, the Content Delivery Networks are exempt from the purview. The CDNs help in saving bandwidth and speed up the connection to the end consumer. Consequently, there are some arguments arising from this. Bharti and JIO have their own content platforms (wink movies and JIO Cinema). They can boost these using the CDN to offer a better speed for such services.

Importantly, TRAI send these guidelines to the DOT (Department of Telecom) that will take a final call on the implementation.

Net Neutrality is A Burning Issue in The US

Recently the Net Neutrality debate has caught fire in the US after the FCC (Federal Competition Commission) proposed to scrap the existing laws. They want to form new laws that give more power to the Telecom Service providers like AT&T and Verizon. In protest, Congress and FCC have received lakhs of comments and calls to push back the new guidelines. FCC can announce the new guidelines on 14th December.

Ajit Pai FCC Chairman

The FCC Chairman Mr. Ajit Pai has said that the existing guidelines are too hard for the telecom companies to pursue new business models and consequently, need change.

Mr. Ajit is under a lot of criticism from the Net Neutrality supporters. Also, to unite people in the fight against the FCC ruling, a lot of websites like the verizonprotests.com are working round the clock.

Thoughts on Net Neutrality in India – Internet Should Live Free

Notably, Telecom companies have been notorious for finding new ways to kill the free internet. And these new TRAI guidelines are a big blow to them.

Nevertheless, I am not a big fan of TRAI when it comes to policy matters. However, I am glad about these recommendations and the stand to keep the internet free in India.

Moreover, the developed countries like the US or Europe are walking a squalid path to help large companies make big bucks. On the other hand, India seems to be offering highest standards of Net Neutrality.

As per Amba Kak (handles technology policy for Mozilla), the US and Europe use either speed or pricing which is a watered down standard for neutrality. The EU (European Regulators for Electronic Communications) and the US FCC (Federal Communications Commission) allows the ZERO Rating on a case by case basis. Such discrimination is not possible in India.

Definitely, the regulatory environment and the guidelines will help the dream of inclusive Digital India, by keeping the level playing field for all small and big players.

Benefits Small Players and Start-Ups

A lot of smaller players and companies have praised the move from TRAI. They are happy with the current scheme of things as it helps to make the internet a free and open space for everyone.

Personally, I think the role of telecom players is to sell the data pipeline to users. It is the user who should have the choice what he wants to read or watch.

I believe data access is more like an electricity connection. The electricity board (ISP and TSP) should not tell me what to watch or not watch as long as I am paying them their monthly bills.

From a small independent publisher point of view, I believe TRAI recommendations offers all bloggers and website / App creators to have an equal opportunity.

What Good is the internet without  – Free Opinion | Free Blogs | Free Voice?

The Internet is born free and should live like that. Besides, large corporates should not restrict it for the sake of making more money.

Time to Celebrate !!! Long Live #NetNeutrality !!!

Share Your Thoughts in the Comments Below… Do you think it is the right move by TRAI?

What Does Mr. Barrack Obama have to Say on Net Neutrality?

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Kanuj Sharma
Full-Time Blogger & Entrepreneur, Tech Enthusiast. A decade of experience in Telecom (Engineer & MBA) Read My Story,  Connect On Twitter, Linked-In, Youtube
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