IFF Submission to the TRAI on the Net Neutrality Pre-consultation

July 5, 2016

The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) made its submissions on the TRAI's pre-consultation on Net Neutrality.

We specifically requested the TRAI to approach any future consultation on net neutrality in the following manner:

  • A clear roadmap should be prescribed for network neutrality rulemaking in India. All existing consultations should be closed with specific recommendations. The reasons for conducting future consultations should be flagged and reasoned expressly, so that members of the public and other stakeholders in this issue can meaningfully engage and contribute.

  • An attempt should be made for substantial agreement to a framework of technical and economic equality which forms the core of net neutrality. This must be ensured through telecom regulation rather than competition law given that an expert, technical regulator needs to exercise constant oversight over telecom service providers. A clear policy statement on core principles and regulatory outline on initial enforcement for network neutrality in India could provide initial flexibility and aid in future rulemaking.

  • Rules which are made to ensure network neutrality may individually fall within the jurisdiction of the TRAI or may be incorporated as express provisions or amendments to the existing language of telecom licensing conditions. In any event an attempt should be made to ensure a strong legal basis for any rulemaking. A conscious effort should be made to bring certainty and stability given that litigation may upset the progress made over the past two years, and add impediments to the commitment to protecting net neutrality made across party lines in Parliament.

  • Though security and privacy are key public interest priorities, it appears at present that they also being used by telecom operators (as evidenced through their earlier submissions) to argue for further regulation, licensing and imposing burdens on online services. Regulatory discussions regarding security should be specific and keep regulatory compliance limited to serve that interest alone.

  • Similarly the privacy of users is an important interest which needs to be urgently addressed. However the TRAI is not the proper body which can ensure an adjudicatory and regulatory system which is available to individuals on issues concerning privacy due to the limitations of the TRAI Act. Further even the DOT may not be able to provide this even by changes in the license conditions. Given these limitations we request the TRAI to make a recommendation given the importance of user privacy that a comprehensive privacy law is made in India, and carry forward the earlier legislative discussion on this topic which has been pending before the Department of Personnel and Training and the Ministry of Law and Justice.

  • We are greatly concerned with question no. 6 which seems to ignore more than a million responses of ordinary Indians against the licensing of online services, including those which enable easy communications via computer to computer VoIP functionality and other features. We would like to restate our earlier submissions that have consistently made the point that radically seeking to further regulate online communications by requiring the licensing of internet applications and web services is not an issue of network neutrality. It is being conflated by Telecom Service Providers who are seeking to extract rents through regulation. Even issues of licensing of online applications and services do need to be considered by the TRAI it should be through an independent consultation. Bundling the licensing of online services within a network neutrality consultation is doctrinally inconsistent and gives the appearance of bartering to safeguard the interests of telecom service providers at the cost of end users and innovators who benefit from the free and open internet.

A full copy of the submission can be accessed here (Link).