In­dia's com­mu­ni­ca­tions reg­u­la­tor en­dorses net neu­tral­ity

The Guardian Australia - - Technology - Michael Safi in Delhi

In­dia’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions reg­u­la­tor has en­dorsed net neu­tral­ity for the world’s se­cond largest in­ter­net mar­ket in its lat­est rec­om­men­da­tions.

Af­ter more than 12 months of con­sul­ta­tions, the Telecom Reg­u­la­tory Au­thor­ity of In­dia (Trai) said it op­posed “dis­crim­i­na­tory treat­ment” of in­ter­net traf­fic, deny­ing car­ri­ers the abil­ity to charge more for data pack­ages that in­clude the use of apps such as Face­book and What­sApp.

The lat­ter in par­tic­u­lar is hugely pop­u­lar in In­dia with around 200m ac­tively monthly users, the most in the world, and of­fer­ing free texts and calls in com­pe­ti­tion with the paid ser­vices of the car­ri­ers.

Un­der the rec­om­men­da­tions in­ter­net ser­vice providers would also be pre­vented from throt­tling the speeds of cer­tain web­sites or ap­pli­ca­tions or giv­ing a “fast lane” to oth­ers.

“The in­ter­net to­day is a great plat­form for in­no­va­tion, star­tups, bank­ing, gov­ern­ment ap­pli­ca­tions such as health, telemedicine, ed­u­ca­tion and agri­cul­ture,” the reg­u­la­tor’s chair­man, RS Sharma, said in Delhi.

“From an In­dian con­text, In­dia has a huge pop­u­la­tion, huge things are go­ing to hap­pen on the in­ter­net.

“It is im­por­tant that this plat­form be kept open and free and not can­ni­balised,” he said.

Trai had strongly in­di­cated its pref­er­ence for an open in­ter­net in 2015 when it re­jected a push by Face­book to pro­vide a free, lim­ited ver­sion of the in­ter­net to In­dian vil­lages, cit­ing con­cerns over net neu­tral­ity.

Last year In­dia over­took the US to be­come the world’s se­cond largest in­ter­net mar­ket with about 333m users, be­hind China with 721m, ac­cord­ing to a UN agency re­port.

It has also be­come the world’s se­cond largest smart­phone mar­ket with around 260m sub­scribers.

Yet its in­ter­net pen­e­tra­tion re­mains among the low­est of the world’s ma­jor economies with only about 27% of In­di­ans con­nected to the in­ter­net, ac­cord­ing to a June re­port from the ven­ture cap­i­tal firm Kleiner Perkins.

Trai’s de­ci­sion comes as the US Fed­eral Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion led by Trump-ap­pointed Ajit Pai pre­pares to re­peal Obama-era reg­u­la­tions en­forc­ing net neu­tral­ity.

In­dia’s IT lobby Nass­com en­dorsed Tues­day’s re­port say­ing it would “en­sure a level play­ing field” for tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies to con­tinue to in­no­vate and cus­tomise their prod­ucts for the In­dian mar­ket.

An ad­vo­cacy group for telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies, the Cel­lu­lar Op­er­a­tors As­so­ci­a­tion of In­dia, said in a state­ment it was dis­ap­pointed by Trai’s de­ci­sion to re­ject “a more mar­ket-ori­ented and mar­ket-driven ap­proach”, which it said would drive de­vel­op­ment, in­no­va­tion and the growth of the in­ter­net.

In­ter­net ac­tivists wel­comed the de­ci­sion but called on the gov­ern­ment to re­lease a time­frame for im­ple­ment­ing the reg­u­la­tions.

“Our job is not done,” Apar Gupta, a supreme court lawyer and co-founder of the In­ter­net Free­dom Foun­da­tion, told Reuters.

“It falls on the depart­ment of telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions to take the rec­om­men­da­tions and turn them into li­cens­ing con­di­tions to be put on telecom providers.”

The Telecom Reg­u­la­tory Au­thor­ity of In­dia re­jected a push by Face­book to pro­vide a free, lim­ited ver­sion of the in­ter­net to In­dian vil­lages in 2015, cit­ing con­cerns over net neu­tral­ity. Pho­to­graph: Man­ju­nath Ki­ran/AFP/Getty Images

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