Net should be free & fair, says DoT panel on net neutrality

Seeks India-specific policy and a think-tank with best talent to deal with the complex digital world

GN Bureau | July 16, 2015


#net neutrality   #DOT   #internet free   #trai  

India specific net neutrality approach is at the core of the report submitted by the Department of Telecom panel on net neutrality. The report on net neutrality committee headed by AK Bhargava has been made public and it makes a case for free and fair internet.

The report says "considering the large internet user base and the critical role that Internet plays in our economic, social and political space, India should take a rational approach and initiate action in making an objective policy, specific to the needs of our country. The timing for this is apt, taking into consideration the exponential growth of content and applications on the internet".

See full report here


The panel says that "in order to deal with the complexities of the new digital world, a think-tank with best talent may also be set up".

It is also critical of the telecom companies and their approach.

Here are few recommendations of the panel:

User rights on the Internet need to be ensured so that TSPs/ISPs do not restrict the ability of the user to send, receive, display, use, post any legal content, application or service on the Internet, or restrict any kind of lawful Internet activity or use.

OTT application services have been traditionally available in the market for some time and such services enhance consumer welfare and increase productivity. Therefore, such services should be actively encouraged and any impediments in expansion and growth of OTT application services should be removed.

There should be a separation of “application layer” from “network layer” as application services are delivered over a licensed network.

Specific OTT communication services dealing with messaging should not be interfered with through regulatory instruments.

The existence of a pricing arbitrage in VoIP OTT communication services requires a graduated and calibrated public policy response. In case of OTT VoIP international calling services, a liberal approach may be adopted.

However, in case of domestic calls (local and national), communication services by TSPs and OTT communication services may be treated similarly from a regulatory angle for the present. The nature of regulatory similarity, the calibration of regulatory response and its phasing can be appropriately determined after public consultations and TRAI’s recommendations to this effect.

For OTT application services, there is no case for prescribing regulatory oversight similar to conventional communication services.

Legitimate traffic management practices may be allowed but should be “tested” against the core principles of net neutrality.

General criteria against which these practices can be tested are as follows:
 

  • TSPs/ISPs should make adequate disclosures to the users about their traffic management policies, tools and intervention practices to maintain transparency and allow users to make informed choices
     
  • Unreasonable traffic management, exploitative or anti-competitive in nature may not be permitted
     
  • In general, for legitimate network management, application-agnostic control may be used. However, application-specific control within the “Internet traffic” class may not be permitted
     
  • Traffic management practices like DPI should not be used for unlawful access to the type and contents of an application in an IP packet
     
  • Improper (Paid or otherwise) Prioritization may not be permitted
     
  • Application-agnostic congestion control being a legitimate requirement cannot be considered to be against net neutrality. However application-specific control within the “Internet traffic” class may be against the principles of net neutrality
     
  • Mechanism to minimize frivolous complaints will be desirable.


Traffic management is complex and specialized field and enough capacity building is needed before undertaking such an exercise.

Managed services are a necessary requirement for businesses and enterprises, and suitable exceptions may be made for the treatment of such services in the Net Neutrality context.

Tariff plans offered by TSPs/ISPs must conform to the principles of net neutrality set forth in guidelines issued by the Government as Licensor. TRAI may examine the tariff filings made by TSPs/ISPs to determine whether the tariff plan conforms to the principles of net neutrality.

Content and application providers cannot be permitted to act as gatekeepers and use network operations to extract value in violation of core principles of net neutrality, even if it is for an ostensible public purpose.

A clause, requiring licensee to adhere to the core principles of net neutrality, as specified by guidelines issued by the licensor from time to time, should be incorporated in the license conditions of TSP/ISPs. The guidelines can describe the principles and conditions of net neutrality in detail and provide applicable criteria to test any violation of the principles of net neutrality.

New legislation, whenever planned for replacing the existing legal framework, must incorporate principles of net neutrality. Till such time as an appropriate legal framework is enacted, interim provisions enforceable through licensing conditions as suggested by the committee may be the way forward.

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