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TRAI Net Neutrality recommendations are a win for Open Internet advocates

India’s telecom regulator TRAI has issued its recommendations on Net Neutrality in India.

The recommendations are largely along expected lines, and prevent telecom companies from slowing down the Internet to ease the traffic of their video apps, messengers and other ‘over-the-top’ services.

The move comes even as an Indian-origin bureaucrat in the US is facing flak for trying dilute net neutrality in the world’s biggest Internet market by revenue.

The following text is given as-is from the TRAI and convey its recommendations today.

Introduction – Internet access services should be governed by a principle that restricts any form of discrimination or interference in the treatment of content, including practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content.

“This principle would apply to any discriminatory treatment based on the sender or receiver, the network protocols, or the user equipment, but not to specialised services or other exclusions .

It would also not restrict adoption of reasonable traffic management practices by the service provider . All of these exclusions and exceptions are described earlier in the document.

The Authority has recommended an amendment to the license agreements to clarify the principle of unrestricted access given under the appropriate license agreements.

It has also expressed other views relating to the applicability of the principle; acceptable traffic management practices and permissible exceptions.

However, the Authority notes that these recommendations are being made without prejudice to the powers and functions conferred upon it under the TRAI Act, 1997, including on issues relating to quality of services, consumer protection, transparency, and monitoring of compliance.

TRAI recommendation non-discriminatory treatment:

The Authority recommends that the terms of various license agreements governing the provision of Internet services in India (UL, VNO license, UASL and CMTS) be amended in order to incorporate the principles of non-discriminatory treatment of content by Internet Access Services along with the appropriate exclusions and exceptions.

This will also help in building uniformity in the terms governing the provision of Internet services by different categories of licensees. The specific amendments recommended to be made in each of the license agreements are listed in the table below.

A licensee (company) providing Internet Access Service shall not engage in any discriminatory treatment of content, including based on the sender or receiver, the protocols being used or the user equipment.

The Licensee is prohibited from entering into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever name called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory treatment of content.

Nothing contained in this provision shall restrict the provision of any specialised services by a licensee, provided that the specialised services are not usable or offered as a replacement for Internet Access Services; and the provision of the specialised services is not detrimental to the availability and overall quality of Internet Access Service.

Nothing contained in this provision shall restrict any measures adopted by the Licensee that are proportionate, transient and transparent in nature and fall under any of the following categories: Reasonable traffic management practices, as may be further specified by TRAI from time to time, provision of emergency services or any services provided during times of grave public emergency, implementation of any order of a court or direction is sued by the Government, in accordance with law; measures taken in pursuance of preserving the integrity and security of the network and equipment; and measures taken in pursuance of an international treaty, as may be specified by the Government.

TRAI’s definitions of special services and Internet access:

For the purposes of this provision, “content” shall include all content, applications, services and any other data, including its end-point information, which can be accessed or transmitted over the Internet; “discriminatory treatment” shall include any form of discrimination, restriction or interference in the treatment of content, including practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content, and “specialised services” shall mean services other than Internet Access Services that are optimised for specific content, protocols or user equipment, where the optimisation is necessary in order to meet specific quality of service requirements.

Provided that the Licensee is authorised to provide such services in accordance with the provisions contained in this License, as modified from time to time.

Internet Access Service is a service to access the Internet that is: a) generally available to the public; and b) designed to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all endpoints on the Internet.

Any service that offers capabilities that are incidental to or provide the functional equivalent of Internet Access Services, shall also be included within the scope of this definition.

Internet of Things as a class of services, should not be specifically excluded from the scope of the restrictions on non – discriminatory treatment.

Those critical IoT services, which may be identified by DoT as satisfying the definition of specialised services (as stated above), would be automatically excluded Further it recommends that specialised services should be provided only if such services are not usable or offered as a replacement for Internet Access Services and the provision of such services should not be detrimental to the availability and overall quality of Internet Access Services.

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