New Delhi: The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) has backed the basic principles of an open and free internet in its recommendations on net neutrality released on Tuesday.

The guidelines issued by India’s telecom regulator state that no internet access service provider shall resort to any form of discrimination, restriction or interference in the treatment of content, including practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds.

“Nobody owns the internet. And, therefore, it is everybody’s property...and, therefore, it should be open and accessible to everybody," Trai chairman R.S. Sharma told reporters.

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Violations of the net neutrality principle will be punishable by penalties that apply to breach of licensing conditions, which will be suitably amended, Sharma said.

Net neutrality implies that telecom service providers must treat all internet traffic equally, without any regard to the type, origin or destination of the content or the means of its transmission.

Trai’s recommendations will now be vetted by the department of telecommunications (DoT) and after its approval, changes with effect to the licence agreements of telecom firms will be made to accommodate net neutrality.

Experts said the proposed regulations are likely to give an edge to integrated operators like Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd and Bharti Airtel Ltd over pure play connectivity providers.

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“We expect Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel to be key beneficiaries as they already have...content platforms," said Aditya Narain, head of research, Edelweiss Securities Ltd.

This will largely be driven by Trai’s decision to keep content delivery networks (CDN) out of the regulation. CDNs enable telecom firms to deliver content within their network without going through the public internet.

“They (Airtel and Jio) could leverage CDN exemption and offer platform content at lower prices to drive traction within their subscriber base," Narain said.

Internet of Things (IoT), as a class of services, is not excluded from the scope of the restriction on non- discriminatory treatment and this is a matter of concern for the telecom lobby group Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI).

“Inclusion of IoT remains a huge concern, and we will need to look closely at this. A Committee to review and decide on network management violations is unnecessarily bureaucratic, and not in keeping with light touch regulation or the ease of doing business. The DoT is already well positioned to investigate any violation of licence conditions and it already has all the necessary enforcement mechanisms in place, hence such a heavy handed approach is not necessary, as is now being proposed by Trai," COAI director general Rajan Mathews said.

According to Nikhil Pahwa, editor and publisher of MediaNama and co-founder of savetheinternet.in, which espouses the cause of a fair and open internet, the “differential access" ruling affirms the principles of non-discrimination established by the Trai in the “differential pricing" ruling last February.

“This is a victory for internet users and ensures that they can create freely without fear of discrimination from TSPs (telecom service providers)," Pahwa said. “It’s important to remember that on the internet, all users are both creators and consumers and the innovation that we have because of the internet is that everyone is able to contribute to a global public commons. The internet isn’t just a marketplace."

Trai has also urged the government to establish a multi-stakeholder body with a framework for a collaborative mechanism among the stakeholders for monitoring and enforcing the net neutrality rules.

Trai’s new guidelines on net neutrality would apply to internet access services, and certain “specialised services", as defined by the telecom ministry, will be exempt. These services are other than internet access services, optimized for specific content, protocols or user equipment, where optimization is necessary to meet specific quality of service requirements and will be excluded from principle of discriminatory treatment.

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