India Net Neutrality Moves One Step Closer to Law

The network neutrality process has moved one step closer to becoming policy, as
a six-member telecom panel has submitted its report on net neutrality to the communications and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.

What is not clear yet is how far the policies will go in the direction of mandating absolute “best effort only” access that does not allow for any packet prioritization.

Most observers do not have any objection to some elements, such as no blocking of lawful applications, and no invidious throttling of lawful apps (such as favoring delivery of packets from apps an ISP owns, or in which an ISP has a direct financial interest).

More contentious are related issues such as whether some forms of “quality of service” based on packet prioritization should ever be permitted.

The debate matters because observers and participants see threats to the openness of the Intenet, or the ability to rapidly expand Internet access or create new services using any QoS mechanisms.

Sponsored data, where consumers can use apps without incurring data charges, provide one clear example of how the rules will affect both access and usage.

Supporters of “zero rating” argue that allowing consumers to use apps without a data plan, or incurring data charges, rapidly increases sampling and contnued use of Internet apps.

Opponents say any such progams give an unfair advantage to the apps provided in such a manner.

On the other hand, even some who might otherwise support the ban on zero rating or sponsored apps might agree that some zero rating or sponsored data usage should be allowed.

Some might argue that e-governance or other apps with high social value could be allowed priority access, zero rating or sponsored data usage.

Some might argue that ad-supported access should be allowed, even if that is functionally equivalent to zero rating. It won’t be easy to simultaneously offer low-cost or free access and maintain aggressive net neutrality policies that bar such approaches.

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