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Net Neutrality: Regulate Internet Calls, Disallow Internet.org-Like App, Says DoT

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The Department of Telecom (DoT) commits to make internet free and fair and thereby upholds the long-standing demand for net neutrality. The report on Net Neutrality by the Department of Telecom (DoT) led by AK Bhargava has been made public and has 24 recommendations. 
 
Net neutrality is a principle that says Internet service providers should treat all traffic on their networks equally, and cannot block or slow down access to any website or content.
 
The report has slammed telecom companies and has laid down recommendations that will aim to ensure internet in India remains free and fair. 
 
Calls made within India through WhatsApp, Skype, Viber and other internet-based services should be regulated just like "traditional" phone calls and regulated, the DoT report has said.  
 
Telecom operators say they are losing voice and text revenue to Internet applications that allow users to communicate at much cheaper costs. For a one-minute phone call, a customer is charged around 50 paise, but a call made using  the Internet costs 4 paise, according to telecom regulator TRAI.
 
The Committee recommended that "the core principles of Net Neutrality must be adhered to. The Committee said India should take a rational approach and initiate action in making an objective policy, specific to the needs of our country. 
 
The DoT panel also said that an endeavour in policy approach should be to identify and eliminate actions that inhibit the innovation abilities inherent in an open Internet or severely inhibit investment in infrastructure.  
 
The document is critical of Facebook's internet.org. The report said until April 2015, Internet.org 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. 
 
Net neutrality has been a subject of intense debate in the country in the last few months, more so after Airtel wanted to start a new service in which some websites could be accessed free using its internet service.
 
Below are the key recommendations of the report.  
 
1) Innovation and infrastructure have both to be promoted simultaneously and neither can spread without the other. The endeavour in policy approach should be to identify and eliminate actions that inhibit the innovation abilities inherent in an open Internet or severely inhibit investment in infrastructure.
 
2) The primary goals of public policy in the context of Net Neutrality should be directed towards achievement of developmental aims of the country by facilitating "Affordable Broadband", "Quality Broadband" and "Universal Broadband" for its citizens.
 
3) User rights on the Internet need to be ensured so that TSPs/ISPs do not restrict the ability of the user to send, receive, display, use, post any legal content, application or service on the Internet, or restrict any kind of lawful Internet activity or use.
 
4) OTT application services have been traditionally available in the market for some time and such services enhance consumer welfare and increase productivity. Therefore, such services should be actively encouraged and any impediments in expansion and growth of OTT application services should be removed.
 
5) There should be a separation of "application layer" from "network layer" as application services are delivered over a licensed network. 


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