Net neutrality — the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all internet traffic equally — has been given a big boost in India, one of world’s biggest markets of internet users and most important technology hubs.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) this week published strong recommendations geared towards upholding net neutrality. This is a significant step towards securing an open web in the country.
The TRAI has ruled in favour of net neutrality in the past, but this week’s recommendations go further, opposing any “discriminatory treatment” of data, including blocking or throttling content, or allowing content providers to pay for preferential treatment of their traffic.
Getting ready to roll back
These positive developments come as the FCC, under the leadership of Chairman Ajit Pai, prepares to reverse existing rules underpinning net neutrality in the US. The proposal, revealed earlier this month, prohibits broadband providers from blocking and throttling content and removes protections that were set in place under past FCC chairs, both Republican and Democrat.
The FCC will vote on the proposal on December 14th which, if approved, will end the country’s historical tradition of upholding an open internet and threaten its leadership in promoting innovation online.
Turning recommendations into rules
The next step in India is to make sure recommendations are put into action. As Apar Gupta, a Supreme Court lawyer and co-founder of the Internet Freedom Foundation said: “Our job is not done. It falls on the Department of Telecommunications to take the recommendations and turn them into licensing conditions to be put on telecom providers.”
We are encouraged by the recommendation that a multi-stakeholder body be established for monitoring and enforcement of the net neutrality framework – a specific recommendation we made to the TRAI during consultations.
The TRAI must now ensure that decisions regarding specifications on traffic management practices and the practical definition of “specialized services” is done in a way that is transparent, relies on robust participatory mechanisms, and is consistent with the net neutrality principles enshrined in these recommendations.
Standing up for internet users
The TRAI’s recommendations come after several years of debate and a number of public consultations on the net neutrality issue. The Web Foundation engaged with the TRAI’s participatory process – providing comments in 2015 and in 2017, in collaboration with the Digital Empowerment Foundation.
We applaud the TRAI’s approach to net neutrality, which not only benefits citizens in India but shows other countries what it means to stand up for consumers and defend the principles of the open internet. We encourage other countries currently assessing net neutrality regulations – including Argentina and Nigeria – to use India as a model.
The Web Foundation will continue to follow these debates and push for strong net neutrality measures around the world as we fight for an open web for everyone.