CUTS International organised a focussed group discussion on Net Neutrality in Jaipur. The participants for the discussion included stakeholders from telecom service providers (TSPs), content service providers (CSPs), Start-ups and Academia along with the representatives of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) Regional office, Jaipur, Rajasthan.
The discussion began by tracing the trajectory of Net Neutrality in India to the year 2006 when TRAI for the first time raised the issue of net neutrality in its consultation paper on ‘Review of Internet Service’ (December, 2006), which is now one of the most debated topics at a global level including India. Today, the net neutrality debate in India is at a very important juncture and TRAI is in the process of bringing in an effective legal/policy instrument for implementing a Net Neutrality framework in India. Given this background, the discussion was opened by identifying 5 key questions to facilitate a dialogue among the participants present for the FGD. The session was moderated by CUTS International.
Definition of Net Neutrality and its underlying principles in the Indian context: The participants were of the opinion that the open and free nature of the internet should not be altered with. Further, discussing the underlying principles of Net Neutrality, there was consensus amongst members who agreed to the FCC’s principles of no blocking, no throttling and no differential pricing. When it came to reasonable management practices, concerns were raised on defining ‘discrimination’ in the present context as it has become difficult in deciding what to include and what not to include under discrimination.
Rights of TSPs to enter into commercial agreement with CSPs: The moment a CSP gets into an agreement with a TSP, it is most likely to become discriminatory. TSPs voiced their concern on having clarity from the government on commercial agreements (licensing) and said that the ISP’s licence lacks clarity on whether or not they can block content. Start-ups and CSPs raised their concerns on the creation of additional revenue without entering into any commercial agreement with TSPs. In this context many examples were discussed, with the academia advocating for Massive Online College Courses and insisted on making free access to all educational content on the internet. CSPs mentioned that preference should not be categorised, rather preference may be given to top 100 websites based on traffic and free access to the rest. But there were counter questions on its technical possibility, identifying the traffic and who would decide the top 100 websites.
Consumers having gatekeepers for internet: As long as safety and security is concerned gate keeping is accepted, the extent of it shouldn’t go beyond and internet abuse needs to be checked and audited at all times.
Violation of Net Neutrality and its treatment: It was agreed that violations must be dealt with stern actions and penalties be imposed for any violations, while defining the violation protocol is still a matter of concern. On the role of regulatory authority and monitoring capability, it was felt that no parallel body was required and existing structure of Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and TRAI was sufficient. Self regulation was ruled out however TSPs voiced the need to have ‘same rule for all stakeholders for the same service’.
The discussion ended on the point that there should not be any impact on consumer choice in the name of innovation, as the economy benefits when the consumer benefits. Representatives of TRAI RO, Jaipur expressed their happiness on the discussion and urged all stakeholders to partake in the transparent consultation process.