The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has published its recommendations on Net Neutrality, supporting the strengthening of rules to prevent discrimination in internet access. The watchdog’s recommendations to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) advise the amplification of licensing terms to provide ‘explicit restrictions on any sort of discrimination of internet access based on the content being accessed, the protocols being used or the user equipment being deployed’. The regulator clarified that its broad definition of ‘content’ covered all content, applications, services and data that can be accessed over the internet. The TRAI’s paper goes on to specify that ‘discriminatory treatment’ includes practices such as blocking, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content.
The recommendations do allow for ISPs to offer so-called ‘specialised services’ which are optimised for specific content, protocols or user equipment, where optimisation is necessary to meet quality of service requirements. Crucially, however, the watchdog made it clear that specialised services may be offered by a provider only if they are not usable or offered as a replacement for internet access services, and under the condition that the provision of specialised services is not detrimental to the availability or quality of internet access services. The caveat looks to enable ISPs to cater to specific niches and offer highly specialised offerings, without opening a loophole for providers to circumvent other restrictions.
Similarly, the TRAI recommends that traffic management measures be permitted, provided that they are ‘proportionate, transient and transparent’. To that end, ISPs would be required to declare their traffic management practices (TMPs), including what measures they plan to use, under what circumstances they will be implemented and the impact that they will have on customers. Monitoring and investigation of violations should be handled by a collaborative mechanism in the form of a multi-stakeholder body, drawing from the industry, as well as content providers, academia, civil society organisations and consumer representatives, the TRAI recommended.