Telecom regulator TRAI on Tuesday came out with its much-awaited recommendations on net neutrality holding that Internet services should be non-discriminatory. TRAI recommendations for a net neutrality framework in India follow the release of a consultation paper in January this year that asked stakeholders for their views on the requirements, design, scope, and implementation of such a framework in the country. The regulators recommendations have taken into account the 61 comments and 8 counter comments it received on the paper, apart from three open house discussions. In its recommendations, TRAI reiterates the DoT (Department of Telecom) committee's recommendations from May 2015 that had said all TSPs (telecom service providers) providing Internet services in India must be bound to the "core principles" of net neutrality.
The regulator says no ISP (Internet service provider) can engage in any discrimination or interference in the treatment of content, including practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down, or granting preferential speeds or treatment. Content has been defined to include "content, applications, services and any other data, including its end-point information, which can be accessed or transmitted over the Internet."
The ISP cannot enter into any arrangement that has this effect of discriminatory treatment. However, the principle would not apply to specialised services - defined as services other than Internet Access Services that are optimised for specific content, protocols or user equipment, where the optimisation is necessary in order to meet specific quality of service requirements.
Specialised services cannot be offered as a replacement of Internet Access Services, and cannot be detrimental to the availability and quality of Internet Access Services. An Internet Access Service is defined as a service that provides access to the Internet, is generally available to the public, and is designed to transmit and receive data from all (are nearly all) endpoints on the Internet.
TRAI's recommendations do allow for some "reasonable traffic management" on part of the ISP, as long as these measures are "proportionate, transient, and transparent in nature". Other measures that can be taken by operators include: the provision of emergency services or any services provided during times of grave public emergency; the implementation of any order of a court or direction issued by the Government; measures taken in pursuance of preserving the integrity and security of the network and equipment, and, any measures taken in pursuance of an international treaty. All of these acceptable measures will be further defined by the relevant licensor (such as TRAI).
"The Telecom Service Providers (TSP) shall be required to declare their Traffic Management Practices, as and when deployed and the impact it may have had on the users. The disclosure requirements shall also include information about specialised services, direct or indirect arrangements entered by them," the regulator recommended in its press release.
The TRAI said for monitoring and investigation of violations, a collaborative mechanism has been recommended to be established in the form of a multi-stakeholder body comprising members representing different categories of TSPs and Internet Service Providers, large and small content providers, representative from research and academia, civil society organisations and consumer representatives.
The regulator in its 55-page recommendations said that the terms of various licence agreements governing the provision of Internet services in India must be amended in order to incorporate the principles of non-discriminatory treatment of content by Internet Access Services along with the appropriate exclusions and exceptions.
Talking about Internet of Things (IoT), the TRAI recommended that the IoT as a class of services, should not be specifically excluded from the scope of the restrictions on non-discriminatory treatment.
"Those critical IoT services, which may be identified by DoT as satisfying the definition of specialised services, would be automatically excluded," it added
Written with inputs from IANS