Source: ET Bureau
This discussion paper comes over two years after it recommended net neutrality rules that backed an open Internet
The telecom regulator on Thursday sought public views on the contours of reasonable Internet traffic management practices that don’t infringe on rules around the free Web or hurt the consumer. It has also sought suggestions for the governance structure of a proposed multi-stakeholder body that would advise the telecom department on issues related to monitoring and application of traffic management rules.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai) new 34-page discussion paper comes over two years after it recommended net neutrality rules that backed an open Internet. It had suggested having a mechanism for reasonable Internet traffic management to ensure quality of services while preserving security of networks and providing for emergency services. There should also be provisions to implement court orders and government directions, as long as they are transparent and their impact on users is declared, it had said.
The regulator is now attempting to define the framework for traffic management. It has sought comments by January 30 and counter comments by February 13. The regulator had recommended a free and open Internet in an August 2017 paper, which the telecom department accepted a year later. Amending the telecom licence rules in 2018 to incorporate the net neutrality guidelines had helped rest a heated debate in India on this globally controversial topic.
In the latest paper, the regulator has called for a reality check on current traffic management practices of telcos, and sought views on the need for a framework to thrash out a comprehensive list of reasonable practices for effectively tracking and enforcing net neutrality.
The regulator said to monitor and enforce net neutrality in an objective and transparent manner, it might be required to list out reasonable traffic management practices and conditions when these might be applied. Transparency on such practices used by telecom companies “can be a critical factor in ensuring adherence to the principles of non-discrimination”, it said.
Trai has also sought views on ways to detect net neutrality violations, especially whether methods such as “crowd sourcing or sample field measurements” could be deployed, or whether an “audit of processes” undertaken by telcos for avoiding such violations was the way forward. Practices for traffic management would also require review from time to time, it added. In 2017, Trai had recommended monetary penalties for breaching net neutrality rules, starting at ₹50,000 per violation per day but capped at ₹50 lakh.
To detect violations, the regulator had at the time mooted the multi-stakeholder body comprising telecom operators, Internet service providers, content providers, civil society organisations and consumer representatives. But, in August 2018, while endorsing Trai’s broad recommendations, the government said actual monitoring and enforcement of the rules would remain with the Department of Telecommunications. The proposed multi-stakeholder body would play only an advisory role, it had said.
In its latest discussion paper, Trai has sought views on “the guiding principles and governance structure” of this proposed multi-stakeholder mechanism, its composition, functions, and the roles and responsibilities of its members. It said this body, by virtue of its advisory role, could undertake “evidence-based investigations of net neutrality violations” in specific cases referred by the telecom department.
“The multi-stakeholder body can also help DoT in handling consumer complaints, compile a list of reasonable TMPs (traffic management practices) and even recommend technical/operational procedures for enforcing net neutrality,” the regulator said. It could also help build consumer awareness.
“The proposed multi-stakeholder body can investigate net neutrality violations (by telcos) only if it has the appropriate legal mandate … there should be a specific legislation empowering the body to do so, with specific rules and procedures,” Prashant Sugathan, volunteer legal director at Software Freedom Law Centre, told ET. “Without an appropriate legal mandate, it can at best make recommendations to the government/Trai around ways to tackle net neutrality violations, not enforce them,” he added.
The telecom industry has always asked for a “light-touch approach” on traffic management, Cellular Operators Association of India director-general Rajan Mathews said. “Now, traffic management is a broad category, how do you define it? There are two approaches. One is the heavy-handed approach where regulations are defined beforehand and there is a whole list. Instead of this, a light-touch approach is needed where depending on the evidence, the regulator can impose appropriate remedies,” he told ET.
The government’s definitive backing of an open Internet regime in August 2018 had ended a multi-year, heated debate that had pitted mobile carriers against content providers and app makers. Telcos had said there was no need for any stringent regulation as they didn’t discriminate in any case. App makers, however, wanted explicit rules barring any discrimination.