India's communications regulator endorses net neutrality
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