Time Trai Stopped Waf­fling on In­tranet

Bharti’s move is the right oc­ca­sion to do that

The Economic Times - - The Edit Page -

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.

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