Under net neutrality, online access is unrestricted and non-discriminatory. The only exceptions are new and emerging services such as autonomous driving, tele-medicine or remote-diagnostic services, which may require prioritised internet lanes and faster-than-normal speeds. A committee will look into the possible exceptions for “critical services” which will also be defined keeping in view the basic tenets of net neutrality.
Net neutrality: All you wanted to know but were afraid to ask
Sundararajan said the inter-ministerial telecom commission, which met on Wednesday, gave the go-ahead to net neutrality in the country.
Net neutrality has become a contentious issue across the world as social media giants and mobile and internet providers seek greater control on delivery of content and services to customers. It is feared that handing out greater and unchecked control to them will lead to monopolies and situations of paid prioritisation, both of which will stifle the start-up culture and new innovations.
The US, the world’s biggest internet economy, is yet to take a clear stand on the matter. In May, the US Senate voted in favour of keeping open-internet rules as it attempts to overturn regulator Federal Communications Commission’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules, something seen as difficult in view of challenges at the House of Representatives or the White House.
Moreover, any efforts to create zero-rated platforms have now been blocked.
Zero-rated platforms+ , which had earlier been tried (by companies such as Airtel and Facebook) but barred, offer only a certain category of services and websites as free, thus creating paid layers and stifling competition and innovation.
The government’s decision is being seen as progressive as it will not allow any mobile operator, internet service provider or online/social media giant to create monopolies on the internet by getting specialized treatment by paying for it. The rules of equal access will be maintained and no company can buy special treatment for itself or its services.
Industry analysts said that net neutrality rules will help the culture of startups and innovation as access to the internet and delivery of services will be the same for everyone. “Smaller companies will have the opportunity to grow unhindered with no fear of bigger rivals stifling their opportunities by paying for specialized treatment,” a government official said.
Sundararajan said that net neutrality will come into force through a notification by the telecom ministry, and companies will need to adhere to its principles. Changes to the licensing norms for companies will be made to factor in the new-age rules.
The telecom secretary, who also heads the telecom commission, also said that internet traffic management by mobile companies will be monitored in the new regime. “The telecom department will decide on traffic management rules, and will seek recommendations from sector regulator Trai on the same.”
The government has also decided for the formation of a multi-stakeholder body for the monitoring and enforcement of net neutrality. “Apart from government officials, this will have representatives from telecom companies, internet service providers and those engaged in internet-of-things platforms,” Sundararajan said.
The grounds for net neutrality and free and fair internet was laid by Trai which in November last year recommended that internet access in India should remain non-discriminatory with no restrictions in the delivery of content through practices such as throttling of speed, blocking, paid prioritisation or preferential treatment.
Trai chairman R S Sharma has also advocated for the introduction of net neutrality principles in India. “The overarching goal for us has been that internet must remain an open platform, unhindered by any entity, so that users and customers have a choice to access content of their liking… Nobody owns the internet and thus it should be available to everyone. We seek openness and integrity of the internet.”
As the internet economy gains in size and influence across the world, there have been increasing concerns with relation to the potential for discriminatory treatment of internet traffic by the entities that control access to the internet. Also, some of the internet giants may buy their way through to a preferential environment at the cost of other companies and startups.