All have welcomed the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai’s) recommendations on net neutrality but internet activists are not over the moon with this development. They claim it’s not hard to see this as a lost opportunity for the regulator to bring down transit costs for operators that would have translated into lower data costs for consumers.
Pranesh Prakash, policy director, Centre of Internet and Society, said when dealing with other forms of equality, there is a clear distinction between affirmative action and discrimination. Reservations are one such example, where positive discrimination is allowed in order to bring about a change for the betterment of society.
“While ISPs (internet service providers) don’t differentiate between the costs of data to end users, for them the prices are different. If they have a local peering agreement that is free and say they will pass on data to customers for no cost, that doesn’t discriminate against anyone. Right now, there’s a good reason not to prohibit that because transit rates in India are much higher than in other places,” he added.
If the Trai had enforced positive discrimination, it could have corrected the anomaly in the market, controlled by a few large players. Once that was rectified — as players would have been forced to reduce these costs — the neutrality clause could have been phased out, he said.
Prakash said one recommendation by the Trai for service providers to disclose their interconnect agreements is a first in the world. “Most of what the policy recommendations say is what other regulators have done, but when it comes to the transparency of agreements, India is the only jurisdiction that is pushing for this.”
However, others too have pointed out that the Trai has taken an extremely simplistic view towards net neutrality, especially omitting the economics of providing connectivity and content to users.
“A discussion on how the regulator expects the industry to shape up, taking along infrastructure players as well as content players, where there is incentive for investors to invest in all kinds of players in the value chain, would have been good,” said Amresh Nandan, research director, Gartner.
He added that it was increasingly becoming important to develop mechanisms to upgrade infrastructure while maintaining the democratic nature of internet. Failure to take that into account might affect progress.
Overall, for consumers, the recommendations will bring little to no change on how they have accessed the internet over the past two years, which in itself is a victory.
Nikhil Pahwa, founder of Medianama and a net neutrality activist, said the guidelines are a victory for internet users and ensures they can create freely without fear of discrimination from telecom service providers. “Essentially, the differential access ruling affirms the principles of non-discrimination that were established by the Trai in the differential pricing ruling last February.”