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India goes opposite direction to US on Net Neutrality

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Net neutrality is a contentious issue right now, and Indian regulator TRAI might add further fuel to the fire taking pretty much the polar opposite position to US regulator FCC.

Just as the FCC is unveiling plans to dismantle the previous administrations net neutrality rules, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released a paper where it has stated the importance of protecting net neutrality.

“The service providers should be restricted from entering into any arrangement, agreement or contract, by whatever named called, with any person, natural or legal, that has the effect of discriminatory treatment based on content, sender or receiver, protocols or user equipment,” the statement from TRAI reads.

In short, treat all content as equal. The term ‘discriminatory treatment’ would include any ‘restriction or interference’ in terms of the delivery of content. This means service providers will not be able to block, degrade, slow or offer preferential speeds/treatment to any content offered by third parties. It basically puts a strong line through any idea of a two-speed internet in India.

One area which is exempt from the net neutrality position is what TRAI has defined as ‘specialised services’. This is a very specific type of service which is not available to the general public. This about services to mission critical services for example (i.e. ambulance services) or critical infrastructure. In short, if you can sell it to Joe Bloggs on the street, you can’t speed it up or slow it down.

TRAI has also stated the telcos will have to be more transparent on how they optimise data traffic across the network, as well as disclosing any impact this will have on the user. This disclose should also include any information on agreements it has entered into to offer ‘specialised services’ (which can be prioritised) that might impact performance for the general public.

The fact that India’s position seems to differ so greatly from the US should hardly be surprising. The partisan nature of US politics has seen the seesaw dip and rise so violently over a number of key issues not just limited to net neutrality. The Republicans sit so far on the right, and the Democrats so far on the left, the idea seems to be to uphold their own political ideology and screw over the opposition, irrelevant of the consumers best interest, which will most likely sit somewhere in the middle.

In terms of impact on the wider Indian telco market, the news will probably not be welcomed by the likes of Bharti Airtel, Vodafone or Idea. After getting beaten senseless in the tariff markets by Jio, the traditional telcos might have been looking for other ways to recoup profits lost in the race to the bottom. With this statement, TRAI has closed off one avenue, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if this notion from the regulator is challenged in the courts.

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