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Updated: A look at the DoT committee’s alleged Net Neutrality report

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Update: The Department of Telecommunications has released its final report on Net Neutrality . You can find it here (pdf). The DoT has said that Internet services dealing with messaging should not be interfered with regulatory instruments. However, it added regulation for communication services which use VoIP needs to be deliberated as there is a regulatory arbitrage, where such services bypass the existing licensing and regulatory regime creating a non-level playing field between telecom operators and Internet services which compete for the same service provision.

The report also said that TRAI should look at zero rating plans on a case-by-case basis. The DoT also said that managed and enterprises services can be exempt from Net neutrality requirements.

Earlier: There should be regulatory or licensing restrictions imposed on domestic Internet telephony, and that Zero rating should be allowed on a case by case basis, suggests a yet-to-be-released Department of Telecom committee report on Net Neutrality, obtained by MediaNama from sources. The committee also allows enterprise and services over internet protocol to be treated separately from public Internet, and not governed by Net Neutrality principles.

Interestingly, it singles out Internet.org, over almost a page and a half, saying that “content and application providers cannot be permitted to act as gatekeepers and use network operations to extract value even if it is for an ostensible public purpose”, while at the same time, saying that the telecom regulator TRAI should consider gatekeeping by telecom operators via Zero Rating on a case by case basis.

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. Strangely, the report makes no direct mention of Airtel Zero, nor does it consider that model, despite there being sufficient information available publicly on Airtel’s plans. The committee could have also sought details from Airtel on Airtel Zero, but it appears it hasn’t. On the basis of information available publicly, MediaNama had shared detailed concerns about both Airtel Zero and Internet.org, apart from also contesting licensing under same service, same rules. Our submission here.

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There are some positives, though: there is no licensing for apps and messaging apps, and the report says the government should take a liberal approach to international calling via VoIP. Legitimate traffic management is also allowed, but important, the committee recommends against app specific traffic management. It’s also odd that the report takes note of Search Neutrality, but says that it can’t do anything about it.

Important: This is a recommendation from a DoT committee and not a final decision, though it will play a role in defining TRAI’s own recommendations and the governments final decision. Also please note that the report has not been made public yet, so it might be subject to change, even though it was submitted to the minister last month. The abridged version and this story is largely corroborated by reports from PTI (read), ET Now (video), Times of India (read) and Mint story on a draft report (read).

A quick overview of what the report says is below, and a slightly longer summary and much more detailed abridged version is here

Quick overview

  1. VoIP: Licensing for domestic VoIP, no licensing for international VoIP.
  2. Messaging and other apps: no licensing for messaging, no licensing for regular apps
  3. Zero rating to be allowed on a case by case basis by TRAI, with a deemed approval (in case the TRAI doesn’t decide quickly enough). TRAI should address complaints about Net Neutrality violations on a case by case basis.
  4. Internet.org is bad because of collusion, content companies cannot play gatekeeper
  5. Managed and enterprise services can be exempt from Net Neutrality requirements
  6. Legitimate traffic management is allowed, but shouldn’t be app specific. DPI to look at app and its content is not.
  7. Interception of IP traffic: Security is paramount and need to figure out how to intercept all traffic, need to look at security issues via inter-ministerial consultations. “National security is paramount, regardless of treatment of net neutrality.”
  8. Privacy is important but have to wait for a privacy law
  9. Can include net neutrality clause in current laws instead of creating a new law
  10. Search Neutrality issues are important, but we’ll look at them later
  11. Not looking at Content Delivery Networks, which are best left to be looked at under unfair trade practices law

Detailed summary here.

Disclosures: I had deposed before the committee, am a volunteer with the Savetheinternet.in coalition, and MediaNama has taken a strong stand on Net Neutrality and has made submissions to the TRAI, DoT and the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT looking at Net Neutrality.

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Written By

Founder @ MediaNama. TED Fellow. Asia21 Fellow @ Asia Society. Co-founder SaveTheInternet.in and Internet Freedom Foundation. Advisory board @ CyberBRICS

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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