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TRAI seeks views on issues related to net neutrality

MUMBAI: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has issued a ‘Pre-Consultation Paper on Net Neutrality’ seeking comments from stakeholders on various issues related to the subject.

TRAI noted that increasing internet usage, particularly of services that consume high bandwidth, may require telecom service providers (TSPs) to adopt certain reasonable measures to protect the integrity of the network and provide appropriate quality of services to their users, while working within the ‘best efforts’ design of the internet.

This, the authority noted, calls for a deeper enquiry into the various issues relevant to the subject of net neutrality, including determining the reasonableness of traffic management tools; understanding the importance of unrestricted access to the internet; transparency and informed choice by users; and customer privacy and national security.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has also sought the recommendations of TRAI on the subject of net neutrality, including traffic management techniques; the economic, security and privacy aspects of over-the-top (OTT) services; and other relevant areas covered in TRAI’s consultation paper dated 27 March 2015.

The pre-consultation paper is an attempt to identify the relevant issues in these areas, which will help TRAI in formulating its views on the way forward for policy or regulatory interventions on the issue of net neutrality.

TRAI has sought stakeholders’ views on the following six questions:

1) What should be regarded as the core principles of net neutrality in the Indian context? Which key issues are required to be considered so that the principles of net neutrality are ensured?

2) What are the reasonable traffic management practices that may need to be followed by TSPs while providing internet access services and in what manner could these be misused? Are there any other current or potential practices in India that may give rise to concerns about net neutrality?

3) What should be India’s policy and/or regulatory approach to issues relating to net neutrality?

4) What precautions must be taken with respect to the activities of TSPs and content providers to ensure that national security interests are preserved?

5) What precautions must be taken to maintain customer privacy?

6) Which additional issues should be considered for a comprehensive policy framework for defining the relationship between TSPs and OTT content providers?

TRAI has invited stakeholders’ written comments on the pre-consultation paper by 21 June.

The authority noted that in the absence of a clear regulatory framework on net neutrality, advanced traffic management techniques can potentially be used by an operator for discriminatory or anti-competitive purposes.

For instance, a TSP could use its control over internet access services to discriminate against any competitors that rely on its network or offer paid prioritisation to certain services.

On the other hand, adherence to strict net neutrality rules could make it difficult for TSPs to deal with congestion and deliver the desired quality of service (QoS) to their users.

An appropriate policy and regulatory approach on these issues should need to strike a fine balance between these competing interests, the authority added.

TRAI also noted that the absence of a detailed regulatory framework governing OTT communication services can have a number of implications, such as in telephone number management, public safety, emergency number access and national security.

Currently, OTT communication services such as voice over internet protocol (VoIP) and instant messaging use the internet for their transmission. While such services are governed in some respects by the provisions of the Information Technology Act, 2000, they are not subject to the same regulatory regime that is enforced on conventional voice and messaging services provided by TSPs.

The authority pointed out that OTT communications and OTT media can also pose a threat to the privacy of individual users besides security challenges at the national level.

While the open architecture of the internet is responsible for the phenomenal growth of OTT services, it also causes the transfer of personal information on the internet to be fraught with potential risks and scope for misuse. This calls for a need to examine the legal and regulatory framework required for governing the privacy of users of OTT services, TRAI said.

The authority had issued a consultation paper on ‘Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services’ on 27 March 2015 seeking the views of the stakeholders. The views on the framework are currently under consideration.

In December 2015, TRAI issued a consultation paper on ‘Differential Pricing for Data Services’. Based on the responses received from stakeholders and internal deliberations, TRAI then released the ‘Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016’.

The regulation prohibits TSPs from offering or charging discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of the content being accessed by a consumer.

In addition, the DoT had also constituted a high-level committee to examine the issue of net neutrality and other associated areas. The committee submitted its recommendations vide a detailed report, which was released in May 2015.