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Trai asked to submit recommendations on net neutrality; government gears up to finalise policy

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NEW DELHI: The government has asked the telecom regulator to submit recommendations on net neutrality, as it gears up to finalise the policy on this controversial issue. “We have received a letter from DoT (telecom department) on making recommendations on net neutrality as whole, and we will shortly float a consultation paper on it,” Trai Chairman RS Sharma told ET. The development comes over a month after Telecom Regulatory Authority of India barred discriminatory pricing of data services, including zero-rated plans such as Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero, which Sharma said had tackled net neutrality from a tariff perspective.

The regulator now plans to define net neutrality and focus on the key concerns at the core of the net neutrality debate the ability of service providers to slow down or speed up access to websites as well as the issue of blocking and prioritising of data, say sources. Throttling and allowing for fast lanes have already been banned by the US Federal Communications Commission, although the US, unlike India, hasn’t barred zerorated products outright.

The regulator’s order banning differential tariff for data services fell within its jurisdiction but the issue of net neutrality as a whole falls under the purview of the telecom department.

The regulator’s recommendation along with the report of the telecom department committee on net neutrality will form the basis of the government’s final policy. At present, the government has no policy on the subject, but it is under increasing pressure from backers of a free Internet and political parties to come out with a broad framework which unequivocally backs an open Internet.

The government has repeatedly said it will adhere to the principle of net neutrality and Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had told Parliament that the government is committed to free, fair and a democratic Internet.

Trai’s consultation paper when floated would override its previous paper on regulating over-the-top (OTT) players that was issued under the chairmanship of Sharma’s predecessor Rahul Khullar, and which came in for sharp criticism by the advocates of net neutrality. The Prime Minister’s Office has been keeping a close watch on the whole issue of an open Internet and has set up a threemember ministerial panel under Prasad’s chairmanship.

In its report on the subject, the internal committee of DoT last year had recommended disallowing the controversial zero-rating plans of telcos and proposed a ban on throttling and any sort of prioritisation of Internet traffic. It had also suggested a new law incorporating principles of net neutrality to replace the Indian Telegraph Act. It had, however, called for “regulatory oversight” on certain over-the-top applications, such as WhatsApp’s calling service and Skype, which allow local voice calls.

Hitting at the heart of the net neutrality debate, the report had further said a balance was required between ensuring Internet openness and reasonable use of traffic management by telcos and Internet service providers (ISPs) for legitimate needs.

It recommended allowing legitimate traffic management, but said ‘exploitative or anti-competitive traffic management’, ‘application-specific control within the Internet traffic’ and traffic prioritisation on paid basis must not be allowed.

Source: ETTelecom

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