Telecom regulator backs net neutrality

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has upheld the principle of an open internet and recommended that internet service providers (ISPs) should be prohibited from discriminating between their web traffic by either blocking some apps, websites and services or by offering "fast lanes" to those who pay for the privilege.

The guidelines issued by India's telecom regulator state that no internet access service provider shall resort to any form of discrimination, restriction or interference in the treatment of content, including practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds.

These recommendations make Net Neutrality - the principle that says that all bits on the internet should be treated equally - rules in India far more ironclad than in the USA, where the FCC moved last week to repeal rules that prohibit internet service providers from blocking or slowing websites, or charging a premium for "fast lanes" for things like high-quality streaming. Based on the responses received, open house discussions were held in three cities.

However, an official with one of the telecom companies, on condition of anonymity, said the CDN exemption would be taken care of by the regulator's recommendation that the service providers should be restricted from entering into any arrangement, agreement or contract "that has the effect of discriminatory treatment based on content, sender or receiver, protocols or user equipment".

The move came after an extended campaign by internet activists against Facebook's free basics platform. The new rules, said to favour Internet service providers, will be put to vote next month in the US.

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TRAI has also suggested allowing telecom and Internet service providers to deploy "reasonable" traffic management practices from time to time, given that such interventions are "proportionate, transient and transparent in nature".

While these recommendations (in particular the license amendments) will only come into force if the Department of Telecommunications decides to implement them, TRAI quietly notes that pending consideration, it may regulate the "manner in which the current licensing requirement of unrestricted access to all content on the Internet is implemented and enforced".

This is at odds with the U.S. regulator, which seems to be moving towards dismantling rules on net neutrality.

Trai's stance is in contrast to that of the US Federal Communications Commission which had last week unveiled plans to rescind so-called net neutrality rules championed by former President Barack Obama.

  • Douglas Reid