IFF's Summary of TRAI's New Net Neutrality Paper
India's telecom regulator TRAI has put out a consultation paper on Net Neutrality, and is moving towards what could possibly be the most robust regulations for a neutral and open Internet in the world. This is huge.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is a policy that preserves the open character of the Internet. It means that all content on the internet must be treated equally by the telecom providers who transport it. This means that they can’t block, or artificially slow down or speed up certain parts of the internet; or price different parts of the internet separately.
Wait, didn’t India already deal with Net Neutrality?
Not completely. In addition to pricing, Net Neutrality also includes discrimination based on technical aspects (such as speed). In February, our telecom regulator dealt with pricing when it banned the practice of charging different prices for different parts of the Internet. That was a huge victory for net neutrality.
Right now, the TRAI is looking at a similar but different practice -- speeding up and slowing down websites and apps. Telecom operators argue that they should not be regulated or held accountable for “reasonably” managing traffic. They also argue that they should be able to enter into financial agreements with digital content companies to advantage their content.
So what is this new consultation paper about?
It mainly deals with Traffic Management, something telecom operators have long been using as an excuse for poor Quality of Service. The second focus is Transparency Disclosures. TRAI has suggested a template form which Internet providers would be required to submit, where they would openly declare any discriminatory practices they engage in.
Why shouldn’t Internet providers be allowed to speed up certain websites and services?
It’s dangerous to allow Internet providers to decide which websites are allowed to go at what speed. Of course, it isn’t wrong to work with Internet companies to ensure that a user has an experience that is as good as that of the rest of the internet. What isn’t fine is creating a separate “fast lane”, where websites that pay Internet providers get to go faster than the rest of the Internet.
Such practices may even exist independent of payment by a website to your Internet provider. It may be done by the Internet provider based on the website’s popularity. Such practices may lock users in to large platforms and prevent users from availing competing services from innovative, nimble startups whose websites load more slowly.
The larger policy objective should be higher speeds for everyone and everything. The right regulatory environment can help Internet providers to improve their own infrastructure, so that all websites and services can be delivered quickly and more reliably.
Net Neutrality preserves the interests of Internet users, companies, as well as the growth of the Internet itself.
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