Telecom Regulator Bats For Net Neutrality, But With Riders

Department of Telecommunications can decide specialised services to be exempted from net neutrality, suggests TRAI.

A person working on a laptop in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)
A person working on a laptop in Mumbai, India. (Photographer: Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg)

India’s telecom regulator left it to the government to decide if any “specialised services” can be exempted from net neutrality while suggesting that restrictions or preferential access to the internet should not be allowed.

The exempted services shouldn’t be a replacement for internet access or detrimental to the overall quality, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India said in its recommendations released today. The Department of Telecommunications may identify such services, it said.

In general, TRAI suggested that licencing rules of service providers should not allow any discrimination in internet access. And it should be applicable to all internet-based content, including applications, services and any other data.

Watch this full interview with TRAI Chairman RS Sharma.

TRAI’s recommendations:

  • Licensing terms should be amplified to provide explicit restrictions on any sort of discrimination in internet access based on content.
  • Content would include everything from applications, services to any other data.
  • Includes any form of discrimination, restriction or interference.
  • Includes blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment.
  • Service providers should be restricted from entering into any arrangement, agreement or contract that has the effect of discriminatory treatment.
  • Scope of proposed principles on non-discriminatory treatment apply specifically to “internet access services”, which are generally available to the public.
  • In order to remove any ambiguity, internet access services have been defined.

Special Category Eligible For Exemptions

Specialised services that will be exempted from principles of discriminatory treatment are…

  • Services optimised for specific content, protocols, or user equipment.
  • Services where optimisation is required to meet specific quality of service requirement.
  • Department of Telecommunications may identify specialised services.
  • Such services should not usable as a replacement for internet access services.
  • They should not be detrimental to overall quality of internet access services.

Content Delivery Networks

  • Enable telecom services provider to deliver content within its network without going through public internet.
  • Such networks are exempted from restrictions on non-discriminatory treatment.

Internet of Things

  • As a class of services, not excluded from scope of restrictions on non-discriminatory treatment
  • Critical IoT services, which may be identified by DoT, which satisfy definition of specialised services, will be excluded

Traffic Management

  • Internet access service providers may take reasonable measurements for traffic management.
  • Measures must be proportionate, transient, and transparent.
  • Service providers must declare impact of such practices on users.
  • Disclosure requirements to include information about specialised services, direct or indirect arrangements.

A Body To Monitor, Probe Violations

It will have representatives from...

  • Telecom service providers.
  • Internet service providers.
  • Content providers.
  • Representatives from research and academia.
  • Civil society organisations.
  • Consumer representatives.

‘Positive For Reliance Jio, Airtel’

The proposed regulations are likely to give integrated operators an upper hand versus pure play connectivity providers, Edelweiss said in a report. “Any operator with own content platform, which is working only on its own network, will be able to charge differential pricing. This may give such an integrated operator advantage versus a pure play connectivity provider,” the brokerage explained.

Edelweiss expects Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd. and Bharti Airtel Ltd. to be key beneficiaries as they already have presence in content platforms.

Exemptions To Net Neutrality

Nasscom President R Chandrashekhar welcomed the fact that the classification of specialised services was kept narrow. There are enough safeguards in place to protect new firms from being crowded out, he told BloombergQuint in an interview.

The intent here is to indicate that ‘specialised’ actually means what it says and it doesn’t want to open the doors wide and allow whole range of services to come through that narrow opening which has been left for very valid reasons.
R Chandrashekhar, President, Nasscom

“Specialised services are created as an exception to the general network neutrality principles on non-discrimination, hence there may be discrimination in favour of such a service,” Supreme Court Advocate Apar Gupta told BloombergQuint.

He believes the definition of specialised services is not specific enough and may over time defeat the very intent of the recommendations.

Creating an exception without a high degree of specificity and tailoring it narrowly may open it up to subsequent notifications and the classes of specialised services may become very broad and this may defeat the very intent of the recommendations.
Apar Gupta, Advocate, Supreme Court

Watch the full interview here.