Telecom carriers and content/technology companies have sparred over tighter enforcement of net neutrality rules, with the likes of Bharti Airtel calling on the government to reorient its position about the open internet with the advent of 5G, and urged application of net neutrality rules on content providers such as Netflix.
In their submissions to the telecom regulator on contours of reasonable internet traffic management practices, content players and technology companies backed an independent and powerful multi-stakeholder body (MSB) that can work closely with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) in monitoring the application of net neutrality regulations.
Telcos, by contrast, want light touch regulation, with Reliance Jio Infocomm backing Bharti Airtel in saying there’s no real need to establish an MSB as net neutrality rules are part of licensing conditions enforced by DoT.
“A one size fits all approach has become obsolete in the 5G context, and the policy on net neutrality needs to be reconsidered and aligned with the principles and standards of 5G,” Airtel said in its submissions to Trai.
Investments in 5G, it said, would depend on enabling regulatory provisions, which would help in unlocking the full potential/benefits of these newer technologies.
Airtel also rued that no steps had been taken by the government yet to apply the net neutrality rules on content providers and mobile apps despite the power these entities wield in the internet ecosystem. “Netflix has admitted in the past they were throttling their content on AT&T and Verizon’s networks,” Airtel said.
US browser maker Mozilla Corp though called for stringent enforcement of net neutrality rules.
“A truly empowered and diverse multi-stakeholder advisory body would go a long way in cementing India’s position as a leader in net neutrality regulation globally,” the company said.
It also called on Trai to emulate the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) model to “determine and measure (the extent) of net neutrality violations”.
Software services body Nasscom also wants the proposed MSB to make “non-discrimination of content a top priority,” and boost public awareness levels about the benefits of net neutrality, besides balancing matters such as “accessibility of services, consumer rights and expectations”.
Airtel though strongly discouraged the need for an MSB, saying net neutrality principles are already part of a telco’s licensing norms, and DoT is fully empowered to ensure compliance.
“If it’s (still) decided to establish an MSB, it should be mandated to advice DoT on enforcing net neutrality principles on entities, other than telecom/internet service providers, such as content providers, device makers, browsers who also have significant impact on internet traffic,” Airtel said in its submissions to Trai.
Jio backed Airtel, saying DoT, instead of creating an MSB, should consult an existing industry-led body that can play an active role in assisting it in monitoring and enforcing net neutrality functions, especially since the department intends to retain the monitoring and enforcement functions on this score.
Back in August 2017, Trai had recommended a free and open Internet and had even suggested monetary penalties for violation of net neutrality rules, starting at Rs 50,000 per violation per day but capped at Rs 50 lakh. Further, it had mooted an MSB comprising telcos, internet service providers, content providers, civil society organisations and consumer representatives to detect violations.
In August 2018, DoT endorsed Trai’s recommendations but said actual monitoring and enforcement of the rules would remain with it, and that the proposed MSB would play only an advisory role.