Ban on differential pricing stays but telcos get leeway in pricing value-added services in 3 areas
The Telecom Commission, the highest policymaking body in the department of telecommunications (DoT), on Wednesday approved the recommendations of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) with regard to net neutrality. With this, telecom operators who were constrained due to the regulator’s differential pricing regulation will get some leeway in pricing their value-added services in three areas — specialised services, content delivery networks and traffic management.
While the prohibition on differential data pricing will remain, which basically means that whatever is available on the net cannot be differently priced by telcos for their subscribers through any exclusive tie-ups with content providers, the three areas — specialised services, content delivery networks, and traffic management — will be kept outside the purview of the principles of net neutrality. Apart from these three areas the earlier leeway to telecom operators to offer free content to their users via their closed communication networks (intranet) would also continue (see graphic).
The broader principle of net neutrality, which disallows any discriminatory practices on the net like throttling, choking or accelerating of select websites by telecom operators or internet service providers, will also remain in force. Once a set of rules is formulated and put in place by the DoT, operators will now be able to provide a fast lane to specialised services but then it has to be done keeping in mind that there’s sufficient bandwidth for normal services. Specialised services cannot be offered as a replacement for normal services and they should not compromise on the quality of internet access services. Specialised services are ones where there cannot be any latency; for example, if a surgery is being conducted with remote guidance, the process cannot afford any hiccups in bandwidth. Similar is the case for driverless cars.
The other area that has been kept outside net neutrality is content delivery networks, which basically is a sort of tie-up between a telco and network operators like Facebook or YouTube. Trai had said in its recommendations that since content on such networks is quite popular within the country, these networks can set up their servers for consumers within the country in association with mobile operators to make the quality better and faster.
However, such agreements between the telcos and network operators need to be be transparent, shun any anti-competitive measures and be properly disclosed to the regulator. On traffic management now telcos will have leeway in times of emergencies or choking of networks when they can provide a fast lane to some services by slowing some others.