Net neutrality: Regulate Internet calls, disallow app, says DoT

New Delhi: A government panel on Net neutrality has proposed to regulate domestic calls made using Internet-based calling applications such as Skype, Whatsapp and Viber at par with phone call services offered by telecom operators.

The panel has opposed projects like Facebook's, which allow access to certain websites without mobile data charges, while suggesting that similar plans such as Airtel Zero be allowed with prior clearance from TRAI. "In the case of Over-The-Top (OTT) VoIP international calling services, a liberal approach may be adopted.

However, in the case of domestic calls (local and national), communication services by TSPs (telecom service providers) and OTT communication services may be treated similarly from a regulatory angle for the present. The Committee is chaired by DoT Advsior for Technology A K Bhargava and members in the panel include A K Mittal, V Umashankar, Shashi Ranjan Kumar, G Narendra Nath and R M Agarwal.

Net neutrality implies that equal treatment be accorded to all Internet traffic and no priority be given to an entity or company based on payment to content or service providers such as telecom companies, which is seen as discriminatory. The neutrality debate flared up in India after telecom operator Airtel launched a platform, Airtel Zero, that would allow free access of some websites on its network. However, the companies were asked to pay Airtel for joining the platform.

The panel discussed Facebook's and said that until April 2015, users could have free access for only a few websites, and Facebook's role as gatekeeper in determining what websites were on that list was seen as violating Net neutrality. The panel said that 'collaborations between telecom operators and content providers that enable such gate-keeping role to be played by any entity should be actively discouraged'.

At the same time, the panel approved allowing zero rating platform after telecom operators compared it with a toll-free number. It said there is a multitude of possibilities in designing tariff plans and everything cannot be validated in advance on parameters of Net neutrality. The panel proposed 'ex-ante determination' and 'ex-post regulation' model for dealing with tariff plan, including zero rating.

Under ex-ante determination, the panel has proposed telecom operators to follow current practice of filing tariffs before the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and the regulator should carefully vet it on scale of Net neutrality before giving its nod.

In line with demand from telecom operators, the panel has recommended that OTT players should be brought under regulation to comply with national security norms like telecom operators in the country do. "National security is paramount, regardless of treatment of Net neutrality.

The measures to ensure compliance of security related requirements from OTT service providers need to be worked out through inter-ministerial consultations," the report added.

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