The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has amended telecom and internet service provider (ISP) permits to incorporate net neutrality rules that bar the blocking or slowing down of content, although it has allowed fast lanes for critical specialised services and also kept content delivery networks outside the ambit of these open internet rules.
Last month, the Telecom Commission, the highest decision making wing in the DoT, had fully endorsed Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) recommendations – issued last November – underlining India’s stand in backing an open internet.
“The government is committed to the fundamental principles of net neutrality, as in keeping the internet accessible and available to all without discrimination,” DoT said in a notification Monday.
Increasing concerns, it said, have been raised globally as well as in India relating to the “potential for discriminatory treatment of internet traffic by entities that control internet access”.
Incorporation of the principles of non-discriminatory treatment, it said, would help build uniformity in terms of governing the provision of internet services by different licensees.
The DoT will establish “a multi-stakeholder body with an advisory role” and seek Trai’s recommendations on its “composition, functions, role and responsibilities”. But monitoring and enforcement of net neutrality rules would remain with DoT.
Last year, telcos had bemoaned Trai’s call for a multi-stakeholder watchdog for enforcing net neutrality, and termed its approach as unnecessarily bureaucratic, especially since the DoT, in its capacity as licensor, they felt was well positioned to investigate any flouting of licence conditions.
DoT said services relating to internet of things or `IoT’ will not be outside the ambit of net neutrality rules, barring those categorised as critical specialised services.
Classification of “critical IoT services” would be undertaken by DoT in consultation with other government departments and stakeholders.
Amended unified access service (UAS) and cellular mobile telephony services (CMTS) permits will include the definition of internet, hitherto, absent, and also the new definition of internet access service.
Specialised services would “explicitly be excluded” from the principles of non-discrimination. Such services, the DoT said, would include those that cannot be offered as a replacement to internet access services. Provision of such specialised services, it said, “must also not be detrimental to availability and quality of internet access services”.
India’s net neutrality rules also exempt content delivery networks that do not use public internet from restrictions on non-discriminatory treatment.
The DoT will also frame rules around traffic management practices (TMPs) for telcos after it receives Trai’s recommendations separately.
Telcos will, subsequently, need to adopt such TMPs to ensure quality of services, network security, emergency services and in implementing court orders and government directions so long as they are transparent and the impact on users is declared.
The government’s definitive backing for an open internet ends a more than four-year, heated debate that pitted mobile carriers against content providers and app makers. Phone companies 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.
India’s stand on implementing non-discriminatory internet access, popularly known as net neutrality, also comes two months after open internet rules expired in the US, legally arming ISPs there with sweeping powers to slow down, block or even offer paid prioritisation to some websites.
India’s net neutrality rules though say telecom or Internet service providers should be barred from signing pacts that can lead to discriminatory treatment based on content, sender, receiver, protocols or even equipment.