Content providers such as Netflix and mobile phone operators backed net neutrality — a concept that guarantees equal and unbiased access to the web — while allowing for reasonable traffic management practices in exceptional cases as laid down by the authorities, reports Times of India. They and groups such as the Internet Freedom Foundation, Internet and Mobile Association of India and Nasscom want a regulatory framework primarily to stop and penalise traffic management practices (TMPs) such as blocking, throttling, prioritisation of traffic or altering of specific content, application or services, with the exception of processes to handle network congestion.
They were responding to a consultation paper on net neutrality floated by the regulator. "We believe it is crucial for Trai (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) to put in place a bright-line regulation that explicitly prohibits TSPs (telecom service providers) from restricting access to content available on the internet to their subscribers and other forms of discrimination, with legitimate traffic management practices constituted limited exceptions to this," the Internet Freedom Foundation said. Counter arguments need to be submitted by April 24.
Only TMPs that are application-agnostic may be allowed, it said, adding a multi-stakeholder body must be formed to advise the regulator. A bright-line principle is a clearly defined rule or standard, which leaves little or no room for varying interpretation. "Operator-deployed reasonable traffic management are practices to be employed at times of network congestion only — rather than as constant forms of discrimination," the Internet Freedom Foundation said. The paper was issued by Trai in January as part of efforts to establish a net neutrality framework. It had also sought views on reasonable traffic management practices to ensure wireless networks do not get choked or congested.
Counter arguments need to be submitted by April 24. Trai will then hold an open-house discussion on the topic before giving its recommendations to the telecom department on the hotly debated global issue.
Content providers such as Netflix and Times Internet argued in favour of complete net neutrality, adding that an open internet promotes competition, free expression and diversity of content. Times Internet is part of the Times of India group, which publishes ET. Netflix, the world's leading subscription service provider, said any traffic management practices should be proportional to an internet service provider's immediate need to manage contention scenarios. "These traffic management practices should not discriminate among... providers of a similar class or category," it added. Times Internet suggested that all content must be equally accessible and no gateways should be created in order to give preferential discovery to one content provider over another. Besides, all content should be accessible at the same speeds.
It also said that zero-rated services shouldn't be allowed. "No Traffic Management Practices (TMP): ISP/TSP should not employ the TMPs unless specifically allowed by TRAI," Times Internet said, adding that for the exceptions, telcos should disclose and submit the reports on the duration of deploying traffic management practices and their effects on consumer/content providers besides the steps taken to avoid similar circumstances. IAMAI suggested a public complaint process should be set up for reporting breaches of the net neutrality regulations. "Regulations should ensure that traffic management practices that impose arbitrary restrictions and discriminatory practices, including blocking, throttling, or altering of specific content, application, or services are strictly forbidden and any such actions should be punishable," said the National Association of Software and Services Companies (Nasscom).
It also cautioned that network traffic management should not involve monitoring of user activity. The debate on net neutrality began early 2015 after it was alleged that telcos were violating the principle by tying up with content providers and providing them toll-free access, also called zero-rating services. In February 2016, Trai barred discriminatory pricing of data services, including zero-rated plans such as Facebook's Free Basics and Airtel Zero, tackling net neutrality from a tariff perspective. While backing net neutrality and speaking out against blocking of content or speed throttling, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) that represents Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Idea Cellular and Reliance Jio said the regulator should adopt a light-touch approach. It cited a change in the stance of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which now favours a more light-touch approach on the grounds that stricter regulation had thwarted investments in networks. "Further, there should be voluntary approach towards adopting the principles of net neutrality," COAI said.
On TMP, COAI said Trai or the government should not prescribe "standards of reasonableness but only lay down the principle of reasonableness." Indian telcos have at the same time asked Trai for holistic deliberations on net neutrality, including issues of differential pricing of services, security and privacy issues related to over the top (OTT) players, which they said were raised at the pre-consultation stage but dropped since. Market leader Bharti Airtel said that a progressive and future-proof net neutrality policy framework should promote, not restrict, the development of higher quality, guaranteed service delivery products from service providers, as these are key to unlocking and supporting future digital services and meeting end-user needs. Reliance Jio said there should not be any unreasonable discrimination in internet traffic provided it's clear of aspects like national security and consumer interests.
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