Understanding TRAI’s most recent “Over-The-Top” Consultation Paper #SaveTheInternet #NetNeutrality

UPDATE 08.12.2018 :   TRAI extends the submission guideline by a month. New Date for submissions is now 07.01.2019. Counter comments is 21.

Why have you created this public analysis?

This is a public analysis for TRAI’s Consultation Paper on OTT [Over-The-Top] Consultation released on November 12, 2018. ‘OTT’ is an acronym that sounds dull, dry and technical -- we suspect just so that our eyes glaze over it -- and we stop paying attention. But this matters as this consultation has the potential for important regulatory changes that will impact how you use your internet platforms and services in future. So we ask you to pay attention. This consultation is important to all of us.

What is in your analysis on the OTT Consultation?

Remember the net neutrality campaign and how you decided to speak up? This consultation paper is a part of the same work. While some parts of net neutrality were addressed, a dangerous proposal to license online services and platforms has persisted. This won’t be limited to the Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft of the world (more specifically, India) but will have an impact on small and medium-sized startups, and even directly impact your online choices and how you use the internet.

In our analysis, we list out the key questions and pose lines of inquiry. These all start from examining the rationale of the paper, which is to ensure two principal objectives. The first is to make sure that there is a continued economic investment in telecom and data networks in India. The second is to cure any regulatory imbalance which exists between telecom services and their internet based counterparts (and if they can be considered as substitutes). There is tremendous complexity in the several strands of arguments which are served in a helpful and accessible manner by the TRAI, but there exists a considerable amount of public concern as the principal proposals themselves may cause massive harm by the introduction of licensing or registration requirements.

Another area which is dealt in the TRAI paper is the discussion on lawful interception of the internet based voice calls and messages, which are often secured by end-to-end encryption; and another is placing a requirement for providing emergency calling services on relevant services. Though, both these issues may seem somewhat independent to the primary thrust of the paper, they arise from the licensing requirements on telecom companies and hence, the TRAI is seeking comments on whether they should be extended to OTT service providers as well. This very well has the potential to break end-to-end encryption in instant messaging  applications such as Signal, Telegram and Whatsapp.

In our analysis we focus on the top concerns, zoom in on the lines of inquiry and help prompt thinking on a digital rights approach to the OTT Consultation Paper.

Click here to read our summary and here to read our analysis (google docs).

So what are you doing about the OTT Consultation?

We are hoping to help spread awareness and public participation in a technical process which is dominated by experts, companies and industry associations. We are creating a series of guides, aimed at reducing jargon and explaining the impact and implications of this consultation. This is in an open and transparent manner, which helps us learn from the feedback of our supporters and volunteers.

To build civic capacity we have a three step model, (1) where within 24-48 hours, we rapidly create an authentic summary (no opinion or commentary), (2) as step two, we publish our analysis within a week or two (broad strokes and key concerns), and (3) then as the final step publish a draft of our formal inputs (detailed submissions) for public comments before sending it out as a formal submission.

We do all of this in plain English (hopefully in future in other Indian languages as well) and invite anyone on the internet to peer review our work. Our hope is to have the capacity to do this for any and all consultations and regulatory processes which impact digital rights in India. For this, we ask for your help.

Click here to read our summary and here to read our analysis (google docs).

What can you do to help?

  1. Speak up and participate: Spread the word on this consultation. Write an article, make a video (reach out to us if you want us to promote it). We hope our documentation helps you draw up your own responses to this consultation, and if, that is too much work, you can freely use parts of our summary, analysis and forthcoming detailed comments to send a response to the TRAI. While this may not drum up big numbers, it brings a greater level of individualisation and diversity in responses. This also helps us check what works for people, and how we can make it better.  
  2. Volunteer: We also need more volunteers to build this analysis out into detailed comments. For this, list out your specific skills and indicate how much time you will be able to devote to us. We see volunteer work as something through which we can learn and provide people an experience which is satisfying. Right now, for the OTT consultation, we are looking for people with an expertise in crunching numbers and familiar with reading financial disclosure documentation of Indian telecom companies.  
  3. Donate: This is really important. Donate to IFF. Help us build capacity, to do more and to do it well. We need to hire people, with the best skills and talent on public interest and digital rights. Whether it is to work on consultations, litigations or organise and coordinate with a growing number of volunteers who are working with us. So consider a donation of your time and money. Your generosity is what gives us strength!

Write to us: [email protected]

About us

  • Work: The Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF) is an indian civil liberties organisation working on technology and fundamental rights. We work across a wide spectrum, with expertise in free speech, digital surveillance and privacy, net neutrality and innovation to champion of freedom in the digital space. To ensure that people in the world's largest democracy use the internet with liberty guaranteed under the Constitution of India.
  • Transparency: We are a non-profit registered under Section 80G of the Income Tax Act. Aimed towards greater accountability to our donors who are ordinary internet users in India like you we have published detailed financial information that is updated regularly.

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