DoT Upholds Net Neutrality In India: Report

by CXOtoday News Desk    Jul 16, 2015

net

The Department of Telecom (DoT) has finally released its report on net neutrality in India. The 100-page report, which upholds the key principles of net neutrality states that user rights on the Internet needs to be ensured so that TSPs/ISPs do not restrict the ability of the user to send, receive, display, use, post any legal content, application or service on the Internet, or restrict any kind of lawful Internet activity or use. 

In view of this, calls made within India through WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and other internet-based services should be regulated just like “traditional” phone calls, a government report has said. However, ” a liberal approach may be adopted” for using WhatsApp and Skype to phone internationally, says the report that is meant to help fashion the government’s policy on net neutrality. Telecom operators have complained that they are losing voice and text revenue to Internet applications that allow users to communicate at much cheaper costs.

Net neutrality is a principle that says Internet service providers should treat all traffic on their networks equally. That means they cannot favour one online service over another - that includes not blocking or slowing down access to any website or content on the internet.
 

Set up in January this year, DoT committee met over 45 organisations including Facebook, Google, Flipkart, Amazon, Paytm, Viber and Skype and telecom service providers. In March, India’s telecom regulator TRAI asked the public to submit feedback and suggestions on net neutrality, which was enshrined in law in the US in June this year. 

Net neutrality became a national debate in India in April after telecom operator Airtel launched a platform, Airtel Zero.  Companies that signed up paid Airtel a fee, but users would not pay data charges for surfing that content.   

 
The  new reportsays  net neutrality must be protected - it is critical of Facebook’s internet.org - but then goes on to say controversial plans like Airtel Zero should be allowed if clearances are taken from telecom regulator TRAI.

On platforms like internet.org, the report says that “content and application providers cannot be permitted to act as gatekeepers” but stresses that “National security is paramount regardless of treatment of Net Neutrality.”

Below are the key recommendations of the report. 

1) The Committee unhesitatingly recommends that “the core principles of Net Neutrality must be adhered to.”

2) The international best practices along with core principles of Net Neutrality will help in formulating India specific Net Neutrality approach. India should take a rational approach and initiate action in making an objective policy, specific to the needs of our country. The timing for this is apt, taking into consideration the exponential growth of content and applications on the Internet.

3) Innovation and infrastructure have both to be promoted simultaneously and neither can spread without the other. The endeavor in policy approach should be to identify and eliminate actions that inhibit the innovation abilities inherent in an open Internet or severely inhibit investment in infrastructure.

4) The primary goals of public policy in the context of Net Neutrality should be directed towards achievement of developmental aims of the country by facilitating “Affordable Broadband”, “Quality Broadband” and “Universal Broadband” for its citizens.

5) OTT application services have been traditionally available in the market for some time and such services enhance consumer welfare and increase productivity. Therefore, such services should be actively encouraged and any impediments in expansion and growth of OTT application services should be removed.

6) The existence of a regulatory arbitrage in addition to the pricing arbitrage adds a degree of complexity that requires a graduated and calibrated public policy response to bring about a level playing field. 

7) Legitimate traffic management practices may be allowed but should be “tested” against the core principles of net neutrality. 

8) Tariff plans offered by TSPs/ISPs must conform to the principles of net neutrality set forth in guidelines issued by the Government as Licensor. TRAI may examine the tariff filings made by TSPs/ISPs to determine whether the tariff plan conforms to the principles of net neutrality. 

9) A clause, requiring licensee to adhere to the core principles of net neutrality, as specified by guidelines issued by the licensor from time to time, should be incorporated in the license conditions of TSP/ISPs. The guidelines can describe the principles and conditions of net neutrality in detail and provide applicable criteria to test any violation of the principles of net neutrality. 

10) National security is paramount, regardless of treatment of net neutrality. The measures to ensure compliance of security related requirements from OTT service providers, need to be worked out through inter-ministerial consultations

11) For OTT application services, there is no case for prescribing regulatory oversight similar to conventional communication services.

12) Legitimate traffic management practices may be allowed but should be “tested” against the core principles of Net Neutrality.a. General criteria against which these practices can be tested are as follows: a) TSPs/ISPs should make adequate disclosures to the users about their traffic management policies, tools and intervention practices to maintain transparency and allow users to make informed choicesb. Unreasonable traffic management, exploitative or anti-competitive in nature may not be permitted.