TRAI announced on Tuesday that it was recommending that the Department of Telecommunications set up a multi-stakeholder body (MSB) to handle complaints about Net Neutrality and frame guidelines for internet service providers. The body, to be set up as a nonprofit under the Societies Registration Act, 1860 would only have an advisory role, and the ultimate power to punish Net Neutrality violations would rest with the DoT.
Net Neutrality is the concept that all data over the internet should be treated the same way, with no selective slowing down, blocking, or discriminatory pricing for different content on the internet.
Traffic Management Practices (TMPs) are techniques that internet providers use to manage how their bandwidth is used, for example, by slowing down speeds for users when there is congestion (too much data with too little capacity). Unreasonable TMPs, like slowing down certain websites, violate Net Neutrality. Reasonable TMPs, like slowing down traffic for everyone for just as long as necessary, don’t.
Background of these recommendations: This consultation follows a series of Net Neutrality recommendations in 2018, which the DoT largely accepted, and sent back to TRAI with a request for further clarity on two issues: what exactly unreasonable traffic management practices (TMPs), which violate Net Neutrality, constitute, and what role and shape the committee on Net Neutrality should have. Below is our coverage of this consultation process.
What the TRAI has recommended
- A multistakeholder body: The DoT will create the multi-stakeholder body, if it accepts TRAI’s recommendations, and and then invite other members from civil society, academia, industry, and consumer groups.
- Who will participate in the multistakeholder body: The Multistakeholder Body would have all licensed service providers as mandatory members, with other members from civil society, academia, content providers, researchers, along with government and consumer representatives.
- What the body will do: The body will investigate Net Neutrality complaints from the public, from its own members, or from referrals made by the TRAI or DoT. TRAI also recommended that it should “submit reports to DoT, with a copy to TRAI, based on monitoring of internet services, investigations of incidents, and review of reports submitted by its members”. It will also draft technical standards for this purpose.
- How Traffic Management Practices will be regulated: On TMPs, TRAI accepted a recommendation by Reliance Jio to kickstart the creation of a “repository” of accepted traffic management practices, a list that the advisory body would be able to use in drafting guidelines and overseeing compliance with Net Neutrality. The multistakeholder body will be tasked with aiding DoT in creating and maintaining this repository, which will also include Rejected TMPs that would not be allowed for use by ISPs. The body will periodically review the list of TMPs.
- ISPs need to disclose Traffic Management Practices: Internet providers should be required to provide the MSB and DoT details on their TMPs, TRAI recommended. After a public comment period where approved TMPs are determined by DoT, ISPs would only be able to use these pre-approved techniques. ISPs would be required to disclose to users when TMPs have been applied to their traffic. Only TMPs that are required by court orders, or put in place for “very brief” periods of time are exempt.
The list of Traffic Management Practices disclosed by ISPs needs to have (in TRAI’s words):
a) the title of the TMP,
b) the circumstances and manner in which the TMP would be applied,
c) a detailed technical description,
d) how it would impact different services used by users,
e) Impact on the users in affected or non-affected areas, and
f) Description and FAQs for end user to understand its purpose and impact.
ISPs may also be required to maintain detailed records of the TMPs they are using, and when they use them.
The DoT will be the one to take a call on whether these recommendations get accepted, and if so, whether all of them are put to action.
Our coverage of this consultation process:
- Airtel’s submission
- Reliance Jio’s submission
- Barbara van Schewick’s submission
- Asia Internet coalition’s submission
- IFF’s submission
- IFF & CIS’s counter-comments
- TRAI Open House Discussion live coverage
- TRAI should take note of unreasonable traffic management by telcos during the pandemic
Update (September 28): A previous version of this article highlighted an ambiguity in the recommendations that seemed to state that the Multi-Stakeholder Body would — after having telecom license holders signed on as members — would appoint other classes of stakeholders. We reached out to TRAI to clarify if this appointment would be done by the DoT or by the MSB; TRAI clarified to us that it was the DoT that would appoint other stakeholders. We have now removed the reference to the ambiguity.