The Telecom Commission on July 11, 2018 approved the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) net neutrality recommendations that bar service providers from discriminating against internet content and services by blocking, throttling or granting them higher speed access.
The decision that aims to ensure open and free Internet in the country was taken at a meeting of the Commission, the highest decision-making body in the Department of Telecommunication in New Delhi.
Speaking after the meeting, Telecom Commission Chairman Aruna Sundararajan said that some critical applications or services like remote surgery and autonomous cars will be kept out of the purview of the net neutrality framework.
TRAI’s recommendations on net neutrality
• TRAI had issued its recommendations on net neutrality in India in November 2017.
• In its recommendations, the regulatory body asserted that there should be no intrusion of equal internet access to everyone, based on just the content.
• According to TRAI, operators must be barred from blocking, degrading or slowing down internet traffic selectively or granting preferential speed or treatment to any content.
• The body said that the principle would apply to any discriminatory treatment based on the sender or receiver, the network protocols, or the user equipment, but not to specialised services or other exclusions.
• It would also not restrict the adoption of reasonable traffic management practices by the service provider.
• The body also noted that internet is an open platform and Internet of Things (IoT), as a class of service is not excluded from the scope of the restrictions on non-discriminatory treatment
• It also recommended restrictions on service providers from entering into any tie-ups or agreements that would lead to discriminatory treatment of internet content.
• It also recommended that licensing terms must detail the list of bias the operator may have in terms of offering content
The Internet service providers who break the rules could lose their licenses to operate in India.
The recommendations, which were the result of a long, multistage consultation process, were then forwarded to the ministry of IT and Communication.
The rules grant exceptions to some services including internet calling and online television provided by telecom companies.
It also allows the net providers to ignore net neutrality in case of emergencies, security threats or to manage high traffic across the network.
• The Department of Telecom will set-up a multi-stakeholder body for the monitoring and enforcement of net neutrality.
• The monitoring body will comprise government representatives, telecom operators, civil society members and others.
• Besides this, the Telecom Commission approved the new Telecom policy -National Digital Communications Policy (NDCP) 2018, which will now seek the approval of the cabinet.
• The National Digital Communications Policy aims to attract investments worth Rs 6 lakh 50,000 crores, create 40 lakh new jobs and provide 50 megabits per second broadband access to every citizen in the digital communications sector by 2022 with the help of reforms.
Net neutrality is a principle that requires the Internet service providers to treat all content on the Internet equally without favouring or withholding access to certain websites, services or apps or charging differently based on the user, content, website or platform.
The net neutrality rules prevent internet service providers from intentionally blocking, slowing down internet traffic selectively or charging money for specific websites and online content.
The rules aim to give consumers equal access to web content and prevent broadband providers from favouring their own content.
Overall, the Indian government’s decision to approve the net neutrality rules is a major step towards ensuring a free, open and fair internet and it is particularly important, as it comes months after the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided to roll back similar protections in the United States.
Indian activists believe net neutrality is vital to ensure that hundreds of millions of Indians aren't exploited in the process.
• In December 2017, the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted along party lines to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order that protects net neutrality in the nation.
• The proposal put forth by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was approved in a 3-2 vote, at a highly anticipated meeting that was held in Washington DC.
• The voting process saw three Republican commissioners in favour and two Democrat commissioners against.
• The repeal of net neutrality marked a huge victory for the internet service providers in the country, as it handed them power over what content consumers can access.
• The move will give ISPs greater power to limit internet access while favouring certain data streams.
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