Open Internet

The government appointed committee on net neutrality has stated that Bharti Airtel’s Zero Rating plan violates net neutrality, reports TOI. However, the Department of Telecom (DoT) committee stated that zero rating platforms will only be allowed if the platforms offered the same terms and conditions for entry to all content providers and websites. This means that content providers will still be able to sign up for zero rating, it’s just that they will need to be treated equally on the platform.

No gatekeeping for accessing content

V Umashankar, a member of the committee’s panel, told TOI that telecom operators tying with content providers created a gatekeeping situation, which was not in favour of an open internet. He said that in their report, they said that they would step in in order to ‘restore balance and ensure that the internet continued to remain an open and neutral platform for expression and innovation’.

“Not all zero rating plans violate net neutrality”

He added that no telecom or ISP should have the potential to or determine user choice, distort consumer markets or controlling preferences based on market dominance or gatekeeping. Although Umashankar added that they had not given a go ahead for zero rating platforms, readers should know that the committee has not said no to the platforms either. Umashankar added that ‘not all zero rating plans were controversial or violated net neutrality’, citing examples of free WiFi or free internet coupons.

TRAI suggested to evaluate pre-launch and currently existing zero rating platforms

TRAI would then ‘check’ the tariff plans. The committee has suggested that TRAI look at zero rating plans through either ex-ante determination (before their launch) or ex-post regulation (for already existing plans). For ex-ante determination, the licensee will need to file the tariff plan with TRAI before platform is launched. TRAI would examine each filing to see its adherence and violation of net neutrality along with its anti-competitiveness value. For ex-post determination, TRAI will look into complaints for such a service and levy penalties in cases of violations.

Zero rating basically allows companies to buy data to offer the companies’ apps to the consumers for free. It violates Net Neutrality by breaking the internet into tiny pieces, especially through paid and free internet, creating Indian and global users and causes telcos to offer different internets to its users. More on what the Airtel Zero platform does here.

Last week, we got our hands on the DoT’s final report on Net Neutrality. You can find it here (pdf). The DoT said that Internet services dealing with messaging should not be interfered with. The report also said that TRAI should look at zero rating plans on a case-by-case basis. The DoT said that managed and enterprises services could be exempt from Net neutrality requirements.

We’d mentioned that the report clearly favors Airtel’s point of view when it comes to Zero Rating, given that among key telecom operators, Reliance Communications has a partnership with Internet.org, and Vodafone is apparently non-committal, and Airtel doesn’t like Internet.org.

Also read: Zero Rating: Slows down innovation, distorts competition & fractures the Internet

Disclosure: MediaNama has taken a pro-net neutrality stance for years. Our entire coverage here