New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai) recommendations for a free internet assume significance at a time when the US plans to repeal its existing rules on net neutrality, rules which will essentially allow telecom firms in the US to restrict broadband speeds and favour their own services.

The US regulatory agency, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Republican Ajit Pai, will vote at a 14 December meeting on a plan to repeal rules on net neutrality. Existing rules in the US bar internet providers from blocking or slowing down access to content or charging consumers more for a certain type of content.

The US plan did not deter Trai chairman R.S. Sharma from spelling out recommendations backing a free internet. “From an Indian context, India has a huge population...huge things are going to happen on the internet. It is important that we keep this open," he said at a media briefing. Edited excerpts from the press meet:

On what net neutrality is

Net neutrality essentially means that networks should be neutral to the content which is being accessed through them. Networks should not prefer one kind of content over another. They should not throttle, they should not provide fast lanes, they should not block, that is what it is. If a customer is paying for the data, then he should have the final choice in deciding as to where he goes. TSPs or ISPs should have nothing to do with the choice of the customer; they should not in any way guide, hinder, or modify the choice of the customer. That’s very important. I always give the analogy of a toll road. If I have to come to Delhi, I take Yamuna Expressway or a toll road, then the toll road only asks me for the toll for my vehicle. It doesn’t give me a discount based on my destination. The choice of accessing content on the internet should be left to me.

On the thinking behind the recommendations

The overarching thought that we had was for a country like India, internet is an extremely important platform. Internet today is a great platform for innovation, start-ups, banking, government applications such as health, telemedicine, education, and agriculture. It is going to become further important in view of the Internet of Things and a huge number of applications. Therefore, it is important that this platform be kept open and free and not cannibalized. So essentially what we are saying is keeping these overarching principles in mind, we have given these recommendations to ensure internet remains an open and free platform in our country. These are the broad thoughts.

On why Trai is upholding the principles of an open internet at a time when the US is rethinking its net neutrality rules

I don’t have any comments to make on what the US is doing. That may be best for them. What every country does is good for their own country. The overarching goal was to keep the Indian context in mind. From an Indian context, India has a huge population, huge things are going to happen on the internet. It is important that we keep this open.

On the specialized services to be exempted from net neutrality guidelines

For example, you have to do surgery, it can be remote surgery. Services where quality is extremely critical. Specialized services require specialized kinds of resources. These services should not be used as substitute for internet access. For example, a bank has dedicated pipes among its branches to create a wide area network. These are specialized things because they are not using public internet. However, it should not be detrimental to the availability of internet access services.

On what the penalty for violations of net neutrality principles will be

With regard to the penalty, we have recommended changes in licensing conditions. Basically, whatever is the penalty for violations of licensing conditions will also be applicable here. Then, we don’t have to prescribe penalties separately for violation of net neutrality because those principles will become part of that document (licensing agreement).

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