Net Neutrality Current Affairs

Telecom Regulatory Authority of India upholds net neutrality

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI ) has upheld the basic principles of an open and free internet in its recommendations on net neutrality.

Net neutrality means that telecom service providers must treat all internet traffic equally, without any regard to the type, origin or destination of the content or the means of its transmission. Proponents of net neutrality hold that all traffic on internet should be treated equally i.e. service providers should allow access to all content without favouring any particular product or website.

TRAI Recommendations

Prohibits Discrimination: It upholds basic principle of net neutrality by keeping Internet open and prohibits any Internet service providers (ISPs) from discrimination on basis of content by either blocking, throttling or fast-laning any websites, apps or web services.

Protection of rights of citizens: The internet use should be facilitated in such manner that it advances free speech rights of citizens, by ensuring plurality and diversity of views, opinions and ideas. It also restrains ISPs from entering into pacts with any person which discriminates on content, protocol or user equipment.

Exemptions: It excludes specialised services and content delivery networks (CDNs) from scope of any rules on net neutrality. It does not define specialised services and leaves it to DoT to identify these services. It also calls for keeping Internet of Things (IoT) within purview of non-discriminatory restriction with the exception of critical services.

It exempt CDNs from the scope of net neutrality rules arguing that CDNs add efficiency to network by reducing latency, mitigating congestion and freeing up network capacity for other purposes. CDNs are layer in Internet networks which are outside public Internet and are used by content generators to store their data at suitable geographical locations.

Setting up Multi-stakeholder body: Telecom and ISPs should deploy “reasonable” traffic management practices from time to time. It calls for setting up multi-stakeholder body to monitor and investigate whether ISPs are adhering to rules.

The body will be led by industry and comprise members representing different telecom and ISPs, large and small content providers, representatives from research, academia, civil society organisations and consumer bodies.

Significance

TRAI’s recommendations follow consultation process that lasted for 1 year, after Department of Telecommunications (DoT) sought TRAI’s views on issue in March 2016 to finalise a viewpoint on net neutrality. These recommendations will now be vetted by DoT and after its approval, changes with effect to licence agreements of telecom firms will be made to accommodate net neutrality. TRAI’s proposal to adhere net neutrality comes days after US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) had announced repealing of 2015 laws that aimed at upholding this broad principle of net neutrality.

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TRAI rules against Differential Pricing

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has barred telecom service providers (TSPs) from offering or charging discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content accessed by a consumer.

In this regard, TRAI has issued Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016.

Key provisions of Regulations

  • These Regulations aims at ensuring that consumers get non-discriminatory and an unhindered access to the internet.
  • They also intend to make data tariffs for access to the internet non-discriminatory on the basis of the content.
  • Prohibits TSPs from entering into any arrangement, contract or agreement with any person that may cause discriminatory tariffs based on content-led data services.
  • Reduction of tariffs for or providing or accessing emergency services at times of public emergency has been permitted.
  • If any TSP flouts this order, it shall be penalised or fined 50 thousand rupees for each day. This fine may be subject to a maximum of 50 lakh rupees.
  • TRAI will keep a close watch on the implementation of the regulation by the telecom service providers and may review it after 2 years or even before that if necessary.

Background

  • These new regulations have been framed out based on the responses received by TRAI on Consultation Paper on ‘Differential Pricing for Data Services’.
  • The Consultation Paper was issued in December 2015 that had primarily sought the views of the stakeholders on whether the TSPs should be allowed to charge differential tariffs based on the websites/ platforms/ applications accessed by customers on the internet.

Comment

The move is being seen as a boost to net neutrality and ends the long-running debate on it in India. Henceforth no TSPs can discriminate consumers on differential pricing of data Services basis of website, platform, application and source. It will ensure that consumers get non-discriminatory and unhindered access to the internet.

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality (or Internet neutrality) is the idea that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat everything that flows across the Internet equally. All ISPs must open all (legal) websites/ platforms/ applications whether they like it or not and cannot charge extra money (differential pricing) for speeding up connection to these websites.

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