The Hush Post: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has recommended upholding the basic principle of keeping the internet  free. The proposals of Trai on net neutrality, when accepted by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT), would ensure that no service provider can restrict, discriminate or interfere in the treatment of content by blocking, slowing down, degrading or granting preferential speeds while providing internet access.

Recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on net neutrality are broadly in line with its February 2016 regulation prohibiting discriminatory tariffs for data services. They also bar differential speeds for various offerings by internet service providers.Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Chairman RS Sharma called for internet, an important platform for India, being kept open and free, and not ‘cannibalised’. Internet is an important platform for the country, especially in the context of innovation, startups, online transactions and various government applications, he said.

However, the telecom regulator has kept content delivery networks (CDN) out of the regulation. This means that cellular service providers who have their own content platform and are offering these services on their own network (content delivery networks) can charge differential pricing.

The CDN content delivery networks (CDN) exemption was likely to benefit integrated operators trying to create content ecosystem to drive user traction.  CDN enables telecom service providers (TSP) to deliver content within their network without going through the public internet.  Reliance Jio has its own content platforms like JioTV, JioCinema, JioMusic, JioCloud, JioMags etc whereas Airtel too has Wynk Movies, Wynk Music, Wynk Games etc.

Trai said service providers should be restricted from entering into any arrangement or contract with anybody that has the effect of discriminatory treatment based on content, sender or receiver, protocols or user equipment.

The regulator, however, has allowed service providers to deploy traffic management practices (TMP), which the operators need to declare when deployed and what impact it would have on users. The regulator wants DoT to establish a multi-stakeholder body comprising telecom operators, ISPs, content providers, civil society organisations and consumer representatives to monitor and probe violations.

In India, the debate over net neutrality kicked off in 2015 when Trai came out with a consultation paper on the regulatory framework for OTT services.  Some of the operators were offering free services through their tie-ups with content providers at that point. Facebook’s ‘Free Basics’ as well as Airtel Zero were particularly highlighted by net neutrality activists and the services were later banned by the regulator.

India has always backed an open internet. The intent of the government to always keep internet free and non-discriminatory was expressed by then Communications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad in Parliament about two years ago.


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