net-neutrality

Internet apps providing Internet telephony (VoIP) services and Instant Messaging pose a threat for customer privacy and national security, the Indian telecom regulator TRAI (pdf) has said in a pre-consultation paper. The TRAI suggests a need for a detailed regulatory framework for VoIP and messaging apps to ensure better privacy and security:

“The absence of a detailed regulatory framework governing OTT (online) communication services can have a number of implications, including for telephone number management, public safety, emergency number access and national security. While the open architecture of the Internet is responsible for the phenomenal growth of OTT services, it also causes the transfer of personal information on the Internet to be fraught with potential risks and scope for misuse.

Besides security challenges at the national level, OTT (Internet) communications and OTT (Internet) media can also pose a threat to the privacy of individual users. While the open architecture of the Internet is responsible for the phenomenal growth of OTT services, it also causes the transfer of personal information on the Internet to be fraught with potential risks and scope for misuse. This calls for a need to examine the legal and regulatory framework required for governing the privacy of users of OTT services.”

The regulator is seeking comments from the stakeholders/public. Comments can be sent by 21s June 2016 to advqos@trai.gov.in. Questions related to this consultation are mentioned at the end of this post.

This is TRAI’s fourth consultation on net neutrality since March 2015. In May 2016, it issued a consultation paper seeking allow TSP agnostic models like Airtel Zero and Free Basics. In December 2015, it consulted on allowing differential pricing for TSPs. In February 2015, it published a consultation paper on internet licensing and net neutrality.

Strict net neutrality rules could hurt telcos

The telecom regulator has mentioned in the paper that, “strict net neutrality rules could make it difficult for TSPs to deal with congestion and deliver the desired quality of service to users.” However, consumers have the right to unrestricted access to internet applications/services, subjected to “lawful restriction”. Therefore, a uniform regulatory approach on Net Neutrality according to the regulator should ideally “strike a fine balance between these competing interests.”

Reasonable traffic management for TSPs

In addition, the TRAI is also looking to allow “reasonable traffic management practices” for ISPs that does not violate the principles of net neutrality. It says that TSPs are forced to implement traffic management methods to maintain “quality of consumer’s experience” owing to growth in wireless internet and increase in video content consumption.

Without appropriate traffic management in place, telecom networks could fail to maintain quality due to congestion and hamper optimal network utilization, added the TRAI.

Traffic management methods violating net neutrality: Some traffic management practices are regarded as “unreasonable interferences with internet traffic by a TSP”. These include:

  • Blocking of applications, websites or any other content on the Internet;
  • Slowing or “throttling” Internet speeds;
  • Preferential treatment of applications, websites or any other content on the Internet;
  • Discriminatory tariff for data services based on the applications, websites or other content being accessed by the user, which has already been prohibited by the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016;
  • Inspection of the contents of data packets, except to meet lawful requirements or to maintain the security of the network.

TRAI has said that it is mandatory for TSPs to provide accurate information about Internet services offered to users to help them make informed decisions. For this, TSPs need to mention terms including aspects of bandwidth, price and the network management policies being enforced.

Questions for consultation
1) What should be regarded as the core principles of net neutrality in  the Indian context? What are the key issues that are required to b e  considered so that the principles of net neutrality are ensured?

2) What  are  the  reasonable  traffic  management  practices  that  may  need to be followed by TSPs while providing Internet access services  and in what manner could these be misused? Are there any  other  current or potential practices in India that may give rise to concerns  about net neutrality?

3) What should be India’s policy and/or regulatory approach in dealing  with  issues  relating  to  net  neutrality?  Please  comment  with  justifications.

4) What  precautions  must  be  taken  with  respect  to  the  activities  of  TSPs  and  content  providers  to  ensure  that  national  security  interests are preserved?  Please comment with justification.

5) What  precautions  must  be  taken  with  respect  to  the  activities  of  TSPs and content p roviders to maintain customer privacy?  Please  comment with justification.

6) What further issues should be considered for a comprehensive policy  framework  for  defining  the  relationship  between  TSPs  and  OTT  content providers?

Image Credit: Flickr user Free Press under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0