We congratulate the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on the release of their Recommendations on Net Neutrality. The recommendations are unequivocal: net neutrality should be the law of the land in India, and the licenses of all service providers should be amended to include strong net neutrality protections. While it is now up to the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) to enact these license changes — and we urge them to do so swiftly — this is a major step to protecting Indian users and the open internet. Moreover, TRAI’s thoughtful analysis and guidance should serve as a model to regulators around the world.
TRAI’s recommendations include many good provisions:
- TRAI recommends hard coding strong net neutrality and non-discrimination clauses into the operating licenses of all service providers. This is a very strong approach, as it means any net neutrality violations could lead to a service providers operating license being revoked. TRAI has also provided good, draft language that could be used by DOT, which should speed up the process of actually making these license changes.
- TRAI requires that any deviance from net neutrality, including for traffic management practices, must be “proportionate, transient and transparent in nature.”
- Requires that specialized services not be “usable or offered as a replacement for Internet Access Services;” and that “the provision of the Specialised Services is not detrimental to the availability and overall quality of Internet Access Service.”
- Good definitions throughout of other key terms like “Internet Access Service,” “Content,” and “Differential Treatment.”
- The creation of a multistakeholder body to collaborate and assist TRAI in the monitoring and enforcement of net neutrality. While we must be vigilant that this body not become subject to industry capture, there are good international examples of various kinds of multistakeholder bodies working collaboratively with regulators, including the Brazilian Internet Steering Committee (CGI.br) and the Broadband Internet Technical Advisory Group (BITAG).
While TRAI’s discussion of the importance of net neutrality can be traced back to at least as early as 2007, this regulatory conversation began in earnest in March 2015 when TRAI released a controversial consultation paper on Over-The-Top (OTT) Services. In response, more than a million Indians filed comment with TRAI calling for strong net neutrality protections via SaveTheInternet.in. Mozilla’s Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Modi at the time stating: “We stand firm in the belief that all users should be able to experience the full diversity of the Web. For this to be possible, Internet Service Providers must treat all content transmitted over the Internet equally, regardless of the sender or the receiver. At a time when users are increasingly being pushed into private, walled gardens and Internet malls providing access to only a limited number of sites, action is needed to protect the free and open Web.”
Fast forward through several consultations to February 2016, when TRAI released an order banning differential pricing (AKA zero rating). While this move was certainly progressive, it was also unusual, no other country had banned differential pricing without already having a net neutrality rule. Today’s recommendations are a welcome and important step to finish this process and ensure that not just differential pricing but differential treatment is also banned. Mozilla has engaged at each step of the two and half years of consultations and discussions on this topic (see our filings here), and we applaud TRAI for taking these actions to protect the open internet.
However, the work isn’t done yet. We urge the DOT to move quickly to make the license changes recommended by TRAI. We also note that TRAI has identified several provisions that require further regulatory guidance — most notably, the definition of traffic management practices and requirements around transparency disclosures. We look forward to working with TRAI, DOT, and other stakeholders to finalize the enactment of strong net neutrality protections in India