The Telecom Commission on Wednesday approved net neutrality rules, which bar service providers from discriminating against internet content and services by blocking, throttling or granting them higher speed access. It has, however, kept certain Internet of Things services such as autonomous vehicles and digital healthcare outside the ambit of these rules.
The Commission also approved the new telecom policy — National Digital Communications Policy 2018 — which will be submitted to the Union Cabinet for approval.
“All the recommendations of TRAI on net neutrality have been approved. Core principles of net neutrality will be followed, except in the case of critical category of services, because in the age of autonomous vehicles, digitised healthcare through sensors, etc, you need to prioritise certain kinds of traffic,” said Telecom Secretary Aruna Sundararajan.
The Department of Telecom (DoT) will notify the services that will be kept out, she said, adding that this was in line with international practices.
Asked if there were riders to the net neutrality rules, she said, “We are not accepting any walled gardens. These are the same net neutrality principles that were articulated by DoT earlier, and subsequently by TRAI, and reaffirmed by DoT now.”
In November 2017, telecom regulator TRAI had come out with its recommendations on net neutrality, in which it suggested that the licensing terms should be amended to provide ‘explicit restrictions on any sort of discrimination in internet access based on content being accessed, protocols being used or the user equipment being deployed’.
It had clarified that all content, applications, services and any other data, including its end-point information, can be accessed or transmitted over the internet.
In February 2016, TRAI had ruled in favour of net neutrality by prohibiting discriminatory tariffs and barred Facebook’s Free Basics and Bharti Airtel’s Zero Rating as they violated core principles.
Wi-Fi for all
The Telecom Commission has also approved two flagship projects of the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) — GramNet, NagarNet and Jan Wi-Fi — to ensure that Wi-Fi is provided to all key relevant institutions.
There will be an average of five Wi-Fi hotspots in every Gram Panchayat (GP). “We want to complete this project by December and the idea is that wherever BharatNet terminates, there will be one public Wi-Fi hotspot in each GP,” a senior government official said.
Two or three developmental institutions in every GP will be enabled with 10Mbps speed going up to 100Mbps by the time BharatNet is fully completed.
In all, there will be 10-12 lakh Wi-Fi hotspots in all the rural areas by December, the official added.
The Commission has also approved removal of double taxation for virtual network operators (VNOs) based on the TRAI recommendations.
The double taxation was one of the reasons why VNO service provisioning has not grown as expected in India even after the government provided licences to 67 companies.