TRAI, TRAI, till you succeed

TRAI, TRAI, till you succeed

Tech companies in the US are urging the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to amend the stringent laws against the violation of net neutrality that was made during the Obama regime. At the same time in India, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Tuesday is set to begin a separate consultation on regulating over-the-top (OTT) participants like WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook etc, to regulate unfair practices and intervention in this sector. The decision comes on the day of TRAI issuing recommendations on net neutrality. The issue of net neutrality has been uncoiling and magnifying for a while.

Deccan Herald goes down memory lane to decipher how the movement began.

Neutrality during the Telegram Age
In this age, standard telegrams were routed 'equally' without discerning their contents and adjusting for one application or another. Such networks were "end-to-end neutral". Thus, the concept of net neutrality existed since the dawn of postal communication.

Emergence of the Internet
As per U.S laws, telegram and phone network services are considered as the common carriers and are forbidden from giving preferential treatment. The Federal Communications Commission kept a check on the carriers to ensure equal access and regulate unfair practices. The Internet that dawned in the late 1980s was meant merely for the commercial purposes with limited public access.

On the other hand, as per the same law, the cable modem Internet access and high-speed data links, which are the essence of internet, were categorized as an information service, unlike telephone services (including services by dial-up modem), and not as a telecommunications service, and thus had not been subject to common carrier regulations, as upheld by the National Cable & Telecommunications Association v. Brand X Internet Services. The scenario changed drastically as the Internet became common in households and turned out to be a societal instrument, in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Debates and Discussions
In the late 1980s, the debate as to whether companies involved in broadcasting were driven by the obligation towards the society, or mere market forces obligated to their shareholders, arose and echoed in the legal debate about net neutrality. Further, the scholars wrote a series of academic papers about the regulatory frameworks of the networks. Tim Wu, a law professor first used the term 'net neutrality' in his papers.

Net Neutrality in India
The concept became vocal in India in 2014 when Gopal Vittal, CEO of Airtel's India operations, and Vodafone India CEO Marten Pieters said that the firms offering free messenger apps like Skype, Line and WhatsApp should be regulated similarly to telecom operators. However, the proposal from the telecom companies was rejected by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

TRAI's investigation and intervention
In November 2014, TRAI investigations discovered that Airtel special internet packs were providing access that was preferential in nature, as the internet pack allowed WhatsApp and Facebook data at rates which were lower than its standard data rates. Commenting on this, Rahul Khullar, Chief of TRAI said that Airtel cannot be held responsible for violating net neutrality because India has no regulation that demands net neutrality. Airtel was harshly rebuked by netizens on social media for its move.

TRAI Consultation Papers
To fetch public opinion on the net neutrality issue, on 27 March 2015, TRAI released a consultation paper. Chief ministers of several Indian states and politicians like Rahul Gandhi, Rajeev Chandrasekar, Ajay Maken, Tarun Vijay and many others expressed their support for net neutrality. Many Indian netizens filed petitions and staunchly backed net neutrality.

Though TRAI guidelines for the Unified Access Service license promotes net neutrality, there is no law to enforce it. However, Facebook's Internet.org, Aircel's Wikipedia Zero along with Aircel's free access to Facebook and WhatsApp, Airtel's free access to Google, and RCom's free access to Twitter expansively talk about the violations of net neutrality being common in India.

 

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