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TRAI Protects Net Neutrality In India, But Conditions Apply; Telcos Slam TRAI

The much awaited Net Neutrality recommendations from Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has been released,

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TRAI Protects Net Neutrality in India

The much awaited Net Neutrality recommendations from Telecom Regulatory Authority of India or TRAI has been released, and sent to Department of Telecom (DoT) for final approval.

While TRAI has maintained their earlier stand on Net Neutrality, and has explicitly stated that no one owns Internet, and Internet shall be open for all, there are some terms and conditions attached, which can benefit large content curators like Jio and Airtel.

At the same time, telecom players have slammed TRAI for issuing such strict Net Neutrality guidelines, and have termed them as ‘draconian’. As per some members, TRAI is helping non-licensed entities such as OTT players, more than the licensed entities such as telecom companies.

How will TRAI respond now? Has TRAI covered all the aspects of Net Neutrality? Why are telecom players upset? We attempt to demystify the recent developments..

TRAI: No One Owns Internet; Its Access Should Be Fair

Via Press Note # 100/2017, TRAI has just released their “Recommendations on Net Neutrality”, which aims to highlight Govt.’s stand and opinion on the delicate issue of Net Neutrality.

The timing of this release is especially important, because in US, FCC is about to give verdict to a very important regulation regarding Net Neutrality, and Internet activists are doing everything possible to protect the sanctity of Internet in the US.

In their recommendation, TRAI has clearly stated that Net Neutrality laws and fundamentals will be upheld in India, without any excuse. They have said that no one own Internet, and no company would be allowed to exploit it for making unholy gains.

TRAI Chairman has said,

“No one owns the internet… so, it should be open and accessible to everyone,”, adding, “So, it is important that the platform is kept open and free and not cannibalised. Networks should not prefer one content over other… should not block or offer fast lane (to certain content)”

TRAI has mentioned in their recommendations that telecom companies or ISPs cannot and should not throttle speed to favor one particular content provider, or restrict it’s access based on plans and schemes.

Hence, thankfully, there will be no specialized plans to access Netflix or Facebook; and both Youtube and Vimeo; Instagram and Pinterest will receive same Internet speed without any discrimination.

However, a service say Netflix or Youtube can buy bulk data packs from a telecom player, and offer their services at higher speed. The end user will be required to pay the same amount to access Netflix or Reddit.

But.. There Are Terms and Conditions Attached

However, unlike previous consultation paper and recommendation released earlier this year, TRAI has included some terms and conditions for unrestricted access to Internet, and it here that the issue becomes somewhat dicey.

Three areas have been exempted from discriminatory Internet access, which are:

  1. Specialized Services
  2. Internet of Things Applications
  3. CDN Networks of Private Telecom Players

Now, ‘specialized services’ haven’t been defined yet, but an example can be an online surgery being performed by a remote doctor, which needs uninterrupted Internet connection. In such cases, telecom companies can discriminate users.

Internet of Things applications, such as driver-less cars can be included in the exempted services.

But the issue of CDN is ambiguous, and we would need some clarity on this.

As per this exemption, telecom companies and ISPs which have their own content delivery networks or CDN, can provide their own content to their own users at higher speed; mainly because that content is not going via public Internet route.

As per a report by Edelweiss, this exemption will hugely benefit Jio and Airtel, two of the largest telcos who are investing heavily into developing their own content, and ensuring that the users access them at high speed.

Edelweiss said,

“We expect Reliance Jio and Bharti (Airtel) to sustain leading positions in this space. They could leverage CDN exemption and offer platform content at lower prices to drive traction within their subscriber base,”

While Jio has their own CDNs such as JioTV, JioCinema, JioMusic, JioCloud, JioMags; Airtel has Wynk Movies, Wynk Music, Wynk Games.

If we believe TRAI’s Net Neutrality recommendations, then Jio and Airtel can provide their users with high speed access of their own content, which, as per the core principles of Net Neutrality, violates the fundamentals.

Clarifying that the CDN exemption is not anti Net Neutrality, TRAI said in their report:

“The scope of proposed principles on non-discriminatory treatment applies specifically to internet access services which are generally available to the public,”

Telcos Term Net Neutrality Recommendations As ‘Draconian’

Meanwhile leading telecom players has termed these Net Neutrality recommendations as draconian, and anti-business.

They are upset over the fact that TRAI completely ignored the demand to make OTT players such as Whatsapp, Skype etc liable under the Net Neutrality laws, and to regulate their usage as they are eating away profits of telecom players, who have paid substantial amount to get licenses.

Telecom players have used COAI’s platform to vent to their anger.

Rajan S Mathews, DG, COAI said,

“We are at the same time disappointed that the Authority did not adopt industry recommendation to have a wider approach to net neutrality, where issues of OTT (over-the-top) players, definition of net neutrality to include issues around connecting the next 1 billion unconnected users, national development priorities, etc., were not considered,”

More updates would come next week, when DoT shares their views on the recommendations, and TRAI explains what are specialized services, and how CDN exemption will benefit the cause.

We will keep you updated.

You can find the complete recommendation made by TRAI on Net Neutrality here.

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