DoT-led committee’s net Neutrality is not what people expect

The committee says the new legal framework must incorporate principles of Net neutrality

By Kundan Pandey
Published: Thursday 16 July 2015

A committee appointed by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) of Government of India on Thursday recommended adherence to core principles of Net neutrality but backed regulation of Over-The-Top (OTT) services like Skype and WhatsApp calls.

Experts criticised the move terming it "protectionist". It is in violation of the idea of a free and open Internet, they believe.

The six-member committee, led by the ministry’s technology advisor, A K Bhargava, argued, "Pricing arbitrage of OTT domestic voice communication services has the potential of significantly disrupting existing telecom revenue models."

The telecom companies have been arguing for a similar, demanding level playing field in the area and it seems the committee has bought their logic.

The committee emphasised the need for ensuring user rights on the Internet so that telecom or internet service providers do not restrict users from sending, receiving, displaying, using, posting any legal content, application or service on the Internet.

"India should take a rational approach and initiate action in making an objective policy, specific to the needs of our country. The timing for this is apt, taking into consideration the exponential growth of content and applications on the Internet,” says the committee’s report.

According to the committee, the primary goals of public policy in the context of Net neutrality should be directed towards achieving developmental aims by facilitating “affordable, quality and universal” broadband for its citizens.

Contrary to its recommendation, the committee has taken a stand against technological progress and violated the principle of Net neutrality.

The committee terms national security a paramount issue regardless of treatment of Net neutrality. It goes on to say that the measures to ensure compliance of security-related requirements from OTT service providers need to be worked out through inter-ministerial consultations.

Other important recommendations

  • OTT application services have traditionally been available in the market for some time and such services enhance consumer welfare and increase productivity. Therefore, such services should be actively encouraged and any impediments in expansion and growth of OTT application services should be removed.
  • There should be a separation of “application layer” from “network layer” as application services are delivered over a licensed network.
  • Specific OTT communication services dealing with messaging should not be interfered with through regulatory instruments.
  • Content and application providers cannot be permitted to act as gatekeepers and use network operations to extract value in violation of core principles of Net neutrality, even if it is for an ostensible public purpose.
  • Tariff plans offered by TSPs/ISPs must conform to the principles of Net neutrality set forth in guidelines issued by the government as licensor. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) may examine the tariff filings made by TSPs/ISPs to determine whether the tariff plan conforms to the principles of Net neutrality.
  • New legislation, whenever planned for replacing the existing legal framework, must incorporate principles of Net neutrality. Till such time an appropriate legal framework is enacted, interim provisions enforceable through licensing conditions as suggested by the committee may be the way forward.
  • In case of 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. Public policy response requires that regulatory arbitrage does not dictate winners and losers in a competitive market for service provision.

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