After leaving the initial consultative process halfway, bringing out a regulation banning differential pricing and coming out with a consultation paper recently to examine if mobile operators can provide free data, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) on Monday brought out a pre-consultation paper on net neutrality. The pre-consultation paper attempts at identifying the relevant issues in these areas so that it helps the regulator formulate its views on the way forward for policy or regulatory interventions, it said.
While the paper aims to check any throttling or blocking of websites by mobile operators to prevent discrimination and paid prioritisation, the contentious aspect is the examination whether over-the-top (OTT) players like WhatsApp, Viber, Hike, Facebook, etc, can be brought under regulation and same-service, same-rule framework. This issue has generated much heat in the past with mobile operators seeking a level playing field and netizens rooting for no intervention.
A government-appointed committee had last year suggested that voice over internet protocol (VoIP) calls (local and national) by OTT players be treated on same lines as similar services by mobile operators. It had said so because it felt that there’s a pricing arbitrage in VoIP communication services.
The department of telecommunications has said that it will take a holistic view on the subject only once Trai submits its recommendations.
Though Trai has sought views on its pre-consultation paper by June 21, industry analyst expressed disappointment at the regulator’s piecemeal approach towards the subject, which has led to all-round confusion.
The paper has sought public views on various aspects such as “What should be regarded as the core principles of net neutrality in the Indian context? What are the key issues that are required to be considered so that the principles of net neutrality are ensured?” It has also sought views on the approach that “India’s policy and/or regulatory approach” should take in dealing with issues relating to net neutrality.
“In the absence of a clear regulatory framework on net neutrality, advanced traffic management techniques can potentially be used by an operator for discriminatory or anti-competitive purposes,” Trai said.