Net Neutrality: TRAI says ‘shrill voices’ won’t win debate

NEW DELHI, Apr 19:  As the uproar continues in favour of Net Neutrality, telecom watchdog TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar today said “shrill voices” will not win the debate and the concept is not “practiced strictly” even in countries like the US and the UK.
The principle of Net Neutrality calls for equal treatment to be accorded to all Internet traffic, without discrimination or priority for any person, entity or company.
While Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has floated a discussion paper on this topic, a raging debate has broken out in the country following the launch of platforms like Airtel Zero and internet.Org.
“There has to be democratic debate. It’s a debate that is waiting to happen. Shrill voices do not win debate. Cool headed reasoned arguments on both sides are need of the hour,” Khullar told PTI in an interview.
“There are different practices in different jurisdictions. UK and parts of Europe do not practice strict net-neutrality. Even in US zero rating plans are permissible,” he said, while replying to a question on whether India was in a position to align with the global net-neutrality principles.
In response to its paper, for which public comments have been sought till April 24, TRAI has already been flooded with over 8 lakh petitions against any attempt to throttle ‘net neutrality’ concept.
“Both sides have their argument. We have consultation process running. Let everybody’s comment come in place, then we will decide further course of action,” Khullar said.
The debate had begun after telecom major Airtel decided to charge separately for Internet-based phone calls in December, which it had to later withdraw.
Earlier this month, the company launched ‘Airtel Zero’ platform, which flared up the entire debate on Net Neutrality, also engulfing Facebook’s internet.Org initiative that has Reliance Communications as a partner in India.
Both Facebook and Airtel claim that their platforms do not violate the Net Neutrality principle and they are actually aimed at expanding Internet access in India.
While these platforms claim to allow users to access a variety of mobile and Internet applications for free, the critics allege that these services restrict the ‘free’ access to a select group of websites and apps and therefore sabotage the entire concept of keeping the Internet free.
Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad recently said that the Government is committed to maintaining “non- discriminatory” access for all to the Internet.
A few other operators including Aircel, Tata Teleservices and Uninor have also tied up with players like Facebook, WhatsApp and Wikipedia to offer free usage to consumers.
The net-neutrality debate has even been joined by film stars, politicians and corporate leaders, while companies like Airtel and Facebook are also reaching out to their users including through social media to defend their case.
Telecom companies have argued that like them Internet based messaging and calling applications should also be brought under the regulatory regime as they compete with operators’ main services — phone calls and SMS.
Telecom operators have argued that Over-The-Top service providers like WhatsApp and Skype are eating into their revenues without making investment in networks which is key to providing connectivity to masses.
In its consultation paper, TRAI has proposed to frame rules on regulation for OTT services.
While Trai has invited public comments till April 24, the counter comments can be made till May 8.
The regulator is also likely to conduct an ‘open house’ discussion with public as part of the consultation process before making its final recommendations to the Government. (PTI)

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