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Indian govt releases Net Neutrality recommendations; civil society not enthused

New Delhi, July 18 2015: An Indian  government appointed Committee on Net Neutrality has submitted its report to the Department of Telecommunications. Its recommendations broadly contain technical, regulatory and public policy related measures required with respect to Net Neutrality issue.
Suggestions and comments on the report and recommendations are invited through discussion forum under MyGov (https://mygov.in/). They can be  submitted  till  Augus 15, 2015.  The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is also currently engaged in consultation process on the issue whose recommendations are awaited. 

Media and civil society  has not been much enthused by the report, particularly by the recommendation to charge for local use of WhatsApp, Skype and Viber  calls
Economic Times: DoT panel recommendations: Not quite neutral, on net or newcomers
The recommendation to stop treating voice-calling applications as part of the universe of applications that keep multiplying on the net and subject them to special regulation, so as to protect the revenues of telecom operators, is bad in principle and in practical implementation.
Hindustan Times: Either you are for it, or against it
One would have liked the DoT panel to provide more clarity on these matters. After all, net neutrality is an absolute concept. Either you are for it, or against it. There cannot, and should not, be degrees of support.
New Indian Express: What Net Neutrality If App Calls Charged?
The seeming flexibility adopted by DoT’s panel, a middle ground, is just bowing down to pressure from telecos, say consumers

In the interests of a full and unbiased discussion, we bring you  the full report and the summary of recommendations
Net Neutrality Committee Report
Summary Note on Recommendations  ( reproduced below)
SUMMARY OF NET NEUTRALITY COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS

The Committee has recommended adherence to core principles of Net Neutrality, which have been outlined in Annexure-IV (Page-103) of the report. User rights on the Internet need to be ensured so that Telecom Service Providers/ Internet Service Providers (TSPs/ISPs) do not restrict the ability of the user to send, receive, display, use, post any legal content, application or service on the Internet, or restrict any kind of lawful Internet activity or use. The committee’ recommendations, among other things, are as follows (For  full summary of recommendation, please go through chapter 17, page no 85 to 89 of the report).

1.      The primary goals of public policy in the context of Net Neutrality should be directed towards achievement of developmental aims of the country  by facilitating “Affordable Broadband”, “Quality Broadband” and “Universal Broadband” for its citizens.

2.      Over-The-Top (OTT) application services should be actively encouraged and any impediments in expansion and growth of OTT application services should be removed.

3. Specific OTT communication services dealing with messaging should not be interfered with through regulatory instruments. For OTT application services, there is no  case for prescribing regulatory oversight  similar to conventional communication services.

4.      In case of  Voice Over Internet Protocol  (VoIP) OTT communication  services, there exists a regulatory arbitrage, wherein such services also bypass the existing licensing and regulatory regime creating a non-level playing field between TSPs and OTT providers both competing for the same service provision. This aspect is under deliberation in other countries as well. European Commission has made a policy pronouncement on May 6, 2015 for a Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe arguing, inter alia, that there is a need to review telecom rules to look at ways of ensuring a level playing field for players in the communications market to the extent that they provide competing services and also for meeting the long term connectivity needs of the European Union.

5.      Under existing telecom licensing conditions, Internet  Telephony is  permitted under restricted conditions. However, pricing arbitrage of OTT domestic voice communication services has the potential of significantly disrupting existing telecom revenue models. This may decelerate the pace of telecom infrastructure expansion, whereas the need is to boost investment in telecom infrastructure to increase broadband reach, speeds, bandwidth capacity and enhanced quality of service. With complete transition of Telecom Network to IP Network, the pricing arbitrage between voice communications by TSPs and OTT service providers would be substantially reduced. The key public policy imperative is to manage the transition from voice-centric to data-centric networks with the concomitant change in technology.

6.    The existence of a regulatory arbitrage in addition to the pricing arbitrage adds a degree of complexity that requires a graduated and calibrated public policy response to bring about a level playing field. In case of OTT VoIP international calling services, a liberal approach may be adopted. However, in case of domestic calls (local and national), communication services by TSPs and OTT communication services may be treated similarly from a regulatory angle for the present. The nature of regulatory similarity, the calibration of regulatory response and its phasing can be appropriately determined after public consultations and TRAI’s recommendations to this effect.

7.    Legitimate traffic management practices may be allowed but should be “tested” against the core principles of net neutrality.

8.    Tariff plans offered by TSPs/ISPs must conform to the principles of net neutrality set forth in guidelines issued by the Government as Licensor. TRAI may examine the tariff filings made by TSPs/ISPs to determine whether the tariff plan conforms to the principles of net neutrality.

9.    A clause, requiring licensee to adhere to the core principles of net neutrality, as specified by guidelines issued by the licensor from time to time, should be incorporated in the license conditions of TSP/ISPs. The guidelines can describe the principles and conditions of net neutrality in detail and provide applicable criteria to test any violation of the principles of net neutrality.

10.    National security is paramount, regardless of treatment of net neutrality. The measures to ensure compliance of security related requirements from OTT service providers, need to be worked out through inter-ministerial consultations.

11.    An oversight process on Net Neutrality may be set up by the government to advise on policies and processes, review guidelines, reporting and auditing procedures and enforcement of rules.

 

 




    


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