Net Neutrality Debate in India

Revisiting the debate which caught the nation’s attention for all the right reasons.

Net Neutrality Debate in India
source: Scroll.in

This is a follow up discussion on Net Neutrality. Read these two important articles to enhance your understanding:


Let’s understand the different stakeholders in the internet space

4 stakeholders –

  1. Consumers (us)
  2. TSPs & ISPs – Telecom Service Providers & Internet Service Providers
  3. Over-the-top (OTT) service providers – Those who build websites, applications over the top of the internet layer
  4. Government or the regulator

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is the independent regulator of the telecommunications business in India.

The recommendations made by the TRAI are not binding on the Central Government. However, the Central Government has to mandatorily ask for recommendations from TRAI with respect to need and timing of new service provider and terms and conditions of the licence to be granted to the service provider.

3 basic tenets of net neutrality

  1. All websites or applications should be treated equally by TSPs
  2. All applications should be allowed to be accessed at the same internet speed
  3. All applications should be accessible for the same cost [The bone of contention with allowing FREE Basics!]

What are OTT services?

Essentially they refer to the online content. OTT service can be facilitated by the TSP or ISP itself (music app from Airtel) or can be issues by a third party (Saavn.com, gaana.com).

The creation of OTT applications has led to a wide-ranging conflict between companies that offer similar or overlapping services. Think of it this way – Airtel might offer you better browsing speeds because it wants you to use its music service – Wync but you happen to take the 3G pack from Airtel and use Saavn.com/ Gaana.com

Take the controversy over the use of Whatsapp/ Normal messaging (where bulk revenue goes to the company which was the ISP).

How is net neutrality regulated in other countries?

The US Federal Communications Commission (telecom regulator in the USA) released new internet rules in March 2015, which mainly disallow:

  • Blocking,
  • Throttling or slowing down, and
  • Paid prioritisation of certain applications over others

UK still allows paid discrimination.

Coming back to TSPs/ ISPs & OTT service providers, what was the issue?

We touched this point above (briefly) that TSPs are at the helm of making and maintaining the infrastructure over which the OTT services operate.

  1. They don’t get any share in the revenues of the OTT service providers
  2. Certain websites or applications require higher bandwidth than others for which the TSPs need to build and upgrade network infrastructure. Customers fret when they are not able to enjoy a seamless experience
  3. The case of common interests – VoIP vs. Call over Mobile network, SMS vs. Whatsapp!

The Telecom and Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016. These regulations prohibit Telecom Service Providers from charging different tariffs from consumers for accessing different services online.

What do TRAI’s 2016 Regulations say?

(i) no service provider is allowed to enter into any agreement or contract that would result in discriminatory tariffs being charged to a consumer on the basis of content (data services),

(ii) such tariffs will only be permitted in closed electronic communications networks, which are networks where data is neither received nor transmitted over the internet,

(iii) a service provider may reduce tariff for accessing or providing emergency services,

(iv) in case of contravention of these regulations, the service provider may have to pay Rs 50,000 per day of contravention, subject to a maximum of Rs 50 lakh, etc


Sources: Ref1 |  Ref2 | Ref3 (PRS Blog - for basics)

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