Legal Era Magazine speaks to TRAI’s Chairman RS Sharma about Net Neutrality and why it is the need of the hour for India...
Legal Era (LE): Do you think that the impact of Net Neutrality on telecom will be bullish? Please substantiate your answer.
Ram Sewak Sharma (RS Sharma): The Internet has emerged as an important resource for innovation and economic growth and as a medium to support information exchange within and across borders. The future growth of the telecom sector and other access networks in India is contingent upon innovation and growth of Internet infrastructure and many applications, content, and services linked to it. Net Neutrality ensures Internet access
services governed by a principle that restricts any form of discrimination or interference in the treatment of content, including practices such as blocking, degrading, slowing down, or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content. The telecom sector is bound to get the benefits as there is a huge scope for increase in the subscriber base and volume of Internet traffic.
LE: Many officials are of the opinion that India is not in need of Net Neutrality. The FCC too has opposed it. How can we work in silos?
RS Sharma: While framing recommendations on Net Neutrality, TRAI had kept the Indian context in mind. India has differences in terms of the level of development; adoption of the Internet; state of the content business; and the regulatory, licensing, and legal framework within which it operates. All these factors influence the manner in which a country may deal with similar issues. As far as India is concerned, Net Neutrality is the need of the hour to ensure the growth of different applications and services based on the Internet.
LE: TRAI has recommended that there should be no prioritization, creation of fast lanes, or throttling of speed. What measures are you taking to ensure that biggies such as Airtel and Reliance comply with these recommendations?
As far as India is concerned, Net Neutrality is the need of the hour to ensure the growth of different applications and services based on the Internet
RS Sharma: Establishing a robust monitoring and enforcement framework is critical for implementing the principles of non-discriminatory treatment in a realistic and effective manner. Accordingly, in addition to any direct monitoring and enforcement actions that may be adopted by TRAI, the Authority has also recommended that for monitoring and enforcement, DoT may establish a multistakeholder body with a framework for collaborative mechanism among the stakeholders. The multi-stakeholder body, not for profit, led by industry, may comprise members representing different categories of TSPs and ISPs, large and small content providers, representatives from research and academia, civil society organizations, and consumer representatives. The terms, conditions, and governance structure, etc. would be recommended by TRAI once this recommendation is accepted by the Government in principle.
LE: What will be the repercussions of Net Neutrality in terms of ongoing consultation on OTT services?
RS Sharma:The issue of OTT is not central to Net Neutrality. These are two separate issues. We are working on the issues related with OTT. Shortly, we will come up with a Consultation Paper on issues related with OTT.
TRAI has excluded ‘Specialized Services’ from Net Neutrality. Please shed some light on the nature of these services.
‘Specialized Services’ mean services other than Internet Access Services that are optimized for specific content, protocols, or user equipment where optimization is necessary in order to meet specific quality of service requirements. TRAI has excluded these services from Net Neutrality. However, the provision of such Specialized Services by a Licensee should not be usable or offered as a replacement for Internet Access Services and the provision of Specialized Services is not detrimental to the availability and overall quality of Internet Access Services.
LE: Has the Government given the regulator substantial powers in terms of improvement in its efficiency and effectiveness?
RS Sharma: The TRAI Act, 1997 defines the functions of the Authority and powers to discharge its functions. Within the prescribed framework, TRAI has been effective in discharging its functions.
LE: As per the definition provided by TRAI, Net Neutrality is the “principle that TSPs must treat all Internet traffic on an equal basis, without regard to the type, origin, or destination of content or means of transmission’’. What is the main reason behind allowing reasonable traffic management practices (TMPs)? Aren’t the chances of these being misused high?
RS Sharma: TSPs have been allowed to carry out reasonable traffic management practices to manage their networks in a reasonable and efficient manner so as to optimize overall network performance, offer satisfactory quality of services to users of diverse content, restrictions for congestion management and for delivering IP traffic on best efforts, which is essential to the design of the Internet. However, any such exception would need to conform to the basic requirements of reasonableness (i.e., the restrictions or interventions must be proportionate, transient, and transparent in nature).
LE: With Net Neutrality being debated hotly, where do you see the telecom sector headed in the coming years?
RS Sharma: Net Neutrality ensures Internet access, independent of discriminatory practices such as blocking, degrading, slowing down, or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content. The neutral behavior of Internet will benefit all sectors of the country, including Telecom.