about 1 year ago
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By Ruma Dubey

Net Neutrality is back on the discussion menu! Two years ago, everyone was talking about it and all of a sudden it died down. Once again it is being debated ferociously and this is thanks to USA.

Six days ago, USA poked a stick in this bee hive saying that it was rolling back net neutrality rules; it plans to scrap landmark 2015 rules intended to ensure a free and open internet, moving to give broadband service providers sweeping power over what content consumers can access. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman, a Republican appointed by Trump announced this roll back and the FCC is set to vote on this decision on the 14th of Dec.

There is a major hue and cry; many internet companies have yesterday urged FCC to scrap this roll back idea. AirBnb, Reddit, Shutterstock, Inc, Tumblr, Etsy, Twitter  and many more have cried out loud while bigwigs like AT&T, Comcast Corp, Verizon are gleeful as they were the ones who had urged the Govt to roll back net neutrality rules.

Well, for us ignoramus, this sounds like technical mumbo-jumbo and most of us could not be bothered. But it is important for us to understand what this means as it could have an impact on our ‘net’ life in the future.

So net neutrality is about how all traffic on the Internet must be treated equally by Internet service providers. This means that all data should be treated equal and there should be no discrimination based on content, site or user and this in turn means, there should be no difference in terms of speed and cost of access.

And this had become a big issue after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) put out a 118-page consultation paper asking the public for its opinion on 20 questions and also about net neutrality. Within a day, it received some 4.2 lakh supporters for net neutrality. Naturally, who would not want non-discriminatory net service, where your service is neither blocked nor traffic throttled or given access priority for money?

Then what’s the debate? Telecom companies like in USA, in India too, are crying foul as they feel they would get a raw deal – they are fast losing money to free messaging and voice services, which is why Airtel started charging for even free apps like Skype and Viber. There was an uproar and Airtel abandoned this idea.

In the midst of all this, Airtel launched ‘Zero’, which was a plan wherein some 150 start-ups could join Bharti’s platform, and they would pay Airtel for user access to the internet for free. This ‘zero’ itself was very much against what net neutrality stood. Thus a debate raged.

Thankfully, the TRAI supports net neutrality though with a rejoinder. In a release which it has out out today, puts the onus on the Govt to decide whether it wants any “specialised services” exempted from net neutrality while suggesting that restrictions or preferential access to the internet should not be allowed. At the same time, it has warned that exempted services should neither be treated as a replacement for internet access nor should it be detrimental to the overall quality.

TRAI has stated that specialised services that will be exempted from principles of discriminatory treatment would be services optimised for specific content, protocols, or user equipment; wervices where optimisation is required to meet specific quality of service requirement and the Department of Telecommunications may identify specialised services.

The TRAI recommendations have been arrived at based on the pre-consultation paper issued in May 2016 to identify key issues and a detailed consultation paper in January 2017 which focussed on requirements, design, scope and implementation of net neutrality framework in India. Based on the responses received, open house discussions were held in three cities. A             quick look at the recommendations made:

  • The terms of various license agreements governing the provision of Internet services in India (UL, VNO license, UASL and CMTS) to 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.
  • Authority recommends that for monitoring and enforcement, DoT may establish a multi-stakeholder body with framework for collaborative mechanism among the stakeholders.
  • Authority recommends that Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) should not be included within the scope of any restrictions on non-discriminatory treatment, which are designed specifically to cover the providers of Internet Access Services.
  • Internet of Things (IoT) as a class of services should not be specifically excluded from the scope of the restrictions on nondiscriminatory treatment.
  • Content would include everything from applications, services to any other data.
  • ‘Discriminatory treatment’ in the context of content would include any form of discrimination, restriction or interference, including blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment.
  • A service provider providing Internet Access Service shall not engage in any discriminatory treatment of content, including based on the sender or receiver, the protocols being used or the user equipment.
  • Service provider is prohibited from entering into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory treatment of content.
  • Allowing service providers to carry out reasonable traffic management practices is necessary for delivering IP traffic on best efforts, which is essential to the design of the Internet.
  • TRAI, might from time to time, frame appropriate regulations to specify further details regarding the scope and assessment of reasonable traffic management practices.
  • TRAI proposes to supplement its existing disclosure and transparency requirements by framing additional regulations in this regard.

TRAI has also gone ahead and defined Internet Access to avoid any confusion - Internet Access Service is a service to access the Internet that is: (i). generally available to the public; and (ii). designed to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all endpoints on the Internet. This means any service that offers capabilities that are incidental to or provide the functional equivalent of Internet Access Services, shall also be included within the scope of this definition.

Now you know at least some bit to understand what this entire hullabaloo is all about. And should you support this - yes!

For a detailed look into the recommendations, go to:

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