Time Trai Stopped Waffling on Intranet
Bharti’s move is the right occasion to do that
Trai left a largish loophole open when it ruled in favour of net neutrality, saying its stand against blocking, paid prioritisation and throttling of content by access providers will not apply to closed electronic communication networks (CECNs). Presumably, the intent was to take corporate intranets outside the framework of net neutrality regulation. Such presumption is not arbitrary because, in all other cases, the effect of the exemption would be to torpedo the goal of an open internet where incumbents will not be able to prevent consumers from accessing new challengers and innovators by paying off access providers. Now that Bharti has sought permission to tie up with a foreign video content provider to make its content free to Airtel subscribers, Trai should clear the confusion over what it means by a CECN.
Asensible guide would be to go by the commercial relationships among those on the network, rather than the physical nature of the network. A corporate intranet would comprise a company’s management and its employees, sometimes accessible to outside agents who provide the company with services and goods. In all these cases, those on the network receive payments from the company in exchange for goods and services provided to the company. A telecom company’s network of subscribers, in contrast, comprises people for whom the flow of services and payments are in the opposite direction: they make payments to the company in return for services rendered by the company. A network of such people cannot make up a CECN eligible to be exempt from net neutrality norms. With such a clear definition in hand, Trai would have no difficulty in turning down Bharti’s present request.
It is entirely possible that Bharti’s real aim is to obtain such a ruling from Trai, so as to pre-empt rivals from adopting the selfsame tactic, rather than to actually offer exclusive content for free to its own subscribers. It is up to Trai to devise a clear definition of an intranet based on the nature of the relationship amongst those on the network, and leave no room for any misinterpretation.