by Elton Gomes
The Telecom Commission (TC) has approved net neutrality rules that restrict internet service providers from discriminating against internet content and services by blocking, throttling, or granting them higher speed access. India has been battling in favour of net neutrality since 2016, when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released a consultation paper on the topic.
What is excluded from net neutrality’s purview?
Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan told reporters that some services will be excluded from the purview of net neutrality. “The Telecom Commission today approved net neutrality as recommended by TRAI, except some critical services will be kept out of its purview,” Sundararajan said, PTI reported. The TRAI had suggested restrictions on service providers from entering into agreements that could potentially lead to discriminatory treatment of content on the internet.
Under the Department of Telecom (DoT), a separate committee has been established to examine what these critical services will be. The Hindu reported that these services might include “autonomous vehicles, digital healthcare services or disaster management.”
Content delivery networks, or CDNs, have also been kept out of the purview of net neutrality. CDNs allow a telecom company to deliver content without the need to access public internet.
What this means for India?
TRAI’s rules for net neutrality were first recommended in November 2017. Now that these policies have been approved, discriminatory treatment of content is prohibited. This means that your internet service provider (ISP) cannot charge you an extra amount for certain services, for example watching videos on Netflix at a high-speed. Acceptance of net neutrality also means that ISPs are restricted from creating high-speed data lanes, or levying extra charges for viewing certain types of content on the internet, the Indian Express reported.
Remember Facebook’s Free Basics initiative that aimed to “bring more people online” but was just a hub of “western corporate content”? Free Basics will remain illegal in India. TRAI’s recommendations clarified that “the use of Internet should be facilitated in such a manner that it advances the free speech rights of citizens, by ensuring plurality and diversity of views, opinions, and ideas,” as per the Indian Express.
What is net neutrality, and why is it important?
In simple terms, net neutrality means unrestricted access to the internet – a space where all websites are treated equally by all service providers. The primary aim of the net neutrality movement in India was to restrict ISPs from slowing down or promoting certain websites or apps.
When net neutrality is in force, individuals will gain unrestrained access to all content on the web, regardless of how big or small an app or a website is. The speed at which each website loads, and online video and music streaming speeds would be the same.
If net neutrality does not exist, ISPs could make a huge amount of money from web content creators. The absence of net neutrality could affect small, emerging players who might not be able to pay ISPs to boost their content. Without net neutrality, ISPs could boost apps and websites of players who pay them, while newer players might not get a chance to get noticed at all.
Furthermore, ISPs could also levy charges if users wish to browse additional websites other than those mentioned in the data pack. This means that users will only have access to a select number of sites decided by the ISP.
Elton Gomes is a staff writer at Qrius
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