Airtel Wants To Officially Exploit TRAI’s Loophole In Offering Exclusive Content; Violating Net Neutrality?
In February this year, then TRAI banned Free Basics by Facebook and upheld Freedom of Internet and Net Neutrality principles, there was a small loophole related with distribution of exclusive content over ‘intranet’.
Two months later, Airtel has decided to officially exploit this loophole; and they are doing it in style.
Airtel has approached TRAI seeking their permission for an exclusive video content network delivered only to their users over a closed network. One of the biggest content providers of videos worldwide has approached Airtel for collaborating on content distribution using closed electronic communications network (CECN) of Airtel.
And in turn, Airtel is seeking TRAI’s approval for the same, as they want to make sure that Net Neutrality principles are not violated.
In a letter to TRAI, Airtel chief regulatory officer Ravi P Gandhi said, “We further submit that while such an arrangement with the global content provider over CECN along with its exclusive offerings to our customers would be compliant to the regulations, it may well be viewed by some stakeholders in violation of principles of net neutrality,”
What Is TRAI’s Take on CECN?
In their notification related with Net Neutrality and Free Basics, TRAI had said, “Differential tariffs being offered for data transmitted over closed electronic communications networks, such as intranets are not prohibited by these regulations. Though the prohibition on discriminatory pricing of data services does not apply to such networks, which are not accessing the internet, if such a closed network is used for the purpose of evading these regulations, the prohibition will nonetheless apply.”
This was mentioned on point 32 of the document.
At that time, it was still not clear as to which content type or platforms would be allowed under this provision.
We had commented that media firms such as Reliance Communications, which owns several media properties like Network18 can offer content from these channels as free for their own customers.
It seems that Airtel wants to do the same, in partnership with another content provider, and delivered exclusively on their own network.
On some level, it may seem like a loophole, as it is not yet clear whether this will break net neutrality principles or not. As per the basic definition of Net Neutrality, ISPs and Govt. should treat all data on the Internet as the same, without discriminating between websites, content, apps and content provider.
Govt. has already declared that core principles of Net Neutrality must be adhered to. And especially in those cases, wherein monopoly can result in breaking the freedom of Internet; for instance WhatsApp and Facebook.
But in case Airtel decided to offer an exclusive content, only for their own customers, priced as per their own convenience (or monopoly), then will it break Net Neutrality? Will Airtel customers use Internet or Intranet?
Lots of questions, and very little answers. We will keep you updated as more details come in..