TRAI starts consultation on traffic management, new body for net neutrality

Telecom regulator TRAI on Thursday started an industry-wide consultation on framework for network traffic management practices and multi-stakeholder body outlined in the net neutrality principles.

The consultation paper issued by TRAI on Thursday discusses various challenges in measurement of internet traffic and compilation of reasonable traffic management practices.

"The objective of this consultation paper is to deliberate the issues related to traffic management practices and the Multi Stakeholder body... It discusses about establishment of a framework to formulate traffic management practices. The paper also discusses about the issues related to composition, function, Governance Structure of multi-stakeholder body," Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) said.

The discussion paper is "limited" to the issues on which additional recommendation were sought by Telecom Department in its letter on July 2018, TRAI said while pointing out that the regulator has no intention to revisit its principles on Net Neutrality and broad approach recommended earlier.

TRAI said that comments on issues raised in the consultation paper should be submitted by January 30 and counter comments by February 13, 2020.

The net neutrality principles -- approved by the telecom department in 2018 -- prohibit service providers from discriminating against internet content and services by blocking, throttling or according preferential higher speeds.

Simply put, this means that entire internet traffic should be available to everyone on equal terms without any discrimination, and service providers cannot indulge in practices such as throttling any web traffic or providing fast lanes for specific content.

Globally, there have been widespread concerns on potential for discriminatory treatment of online traffic by the entities that control access to the internet. These concerns regarding non-discriminatory access have become the centre of a global policy debate, often referred to as the debate on 'net neutrality'.

TRAI had earlier barred platforms like Facebook's Internet.Org and Airtel Zero which allowed free access to select websites, to check 'gate-keeping' in cyber space. TRAI, thereafter, also mooted restrictions on service providers that bars them from entering into agreements which lead to discriminatory treatment of content on the Internet. Based on TRAI recommendations, Telecom Commission in 2018 approved net neutrality rules which prohibit service providers from discriminating against Internet content and services by blocking, throttling or granting them higher speed access.

Some mission critical applications or services like remote surgery and autonomous cars will however be kept out of the purview of net neutrality framework.

While clearing the net neutrality rules, DoT had sought additional recommendations from TRAI on necessary Traffic Management Practices (TMPs) and composition, functions, role and responsibilities of the multi-stakeholder body for monitoring and enforcement.

"Any traffic management practice must only be applied to handle concerned exceptional circumstances and not for any commercial considerations," TRAI has said in its consultation paper on Thursday.

It has sought stakeholder views on types of practices currently deployed by access providers to manage traffic.

"Out of these practices, which ones can be considered as reasonable from perspective of Net Neutrality. Whether list of Traffic Management Practises (TMPs) can be prepared in advance or it would be required to update it from time to time? If later is yes, then what framework would be required to be established by Multi-Stakeholder Body to keep it up to date?," TRAI has asked.

It has also sought views on set up needed for detecting violations of Net Neutrality.

Department of Telecom (DoT) had also asked the Trai to "recommend the composition, functions, role and responsibilities of the multi-stakeholder body" that will play an advisory role to DoT regrading monitoring and enforcement of net neutrality principles. Multi-Stakeholder Body will be responsible for providing support to Telecom Department in monitoring and enforcement of net neutrality principles and submit requisite reports to the Government based on monitoring and investigations.

"What should be the composition, functions, roles and responsibilities of multi-stakeholder body considering the decision of DoT that multi-stakeholder body shall have an advisory role and formulation of TMPs and Monitoring and Enforcement rest with DoT?," TRAI said.

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