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Govt panel looking into Internet neutrality

By BS Reporter
April 14, 2015 14:43 IST
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The panel, set up in January, will submit a report on the matter by the second week of May

InternetCalling for 'non-discriminatory' Internet access in the country, the government on Monday said an independent committee set up by it was looking into the issue of net neutrality.

The committee, comprising six officials from the department of telecommunications and set up in January, has been asked to expedite consultations on the issue and will submit a report by the second week of May.

Perhaps, the government tried to distance itself from a controversy over the issue, sparked after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India released a discussion paper on it last month, by saying Trai was an advisory body and its conclusions on the matter were only 'recommendations'.

It added it would take a 'final call' on the matter.

Of late, net neutrality -- which deals with whether telecom operators can determine access to particular apps or websites based on differential pricing or surfing experience -- has generated much debate.

Several internet activists, organisations and celebrities have started campaigns to spread awareness about the matter and are urging the public to petition against net neutrality.

Union telecom and information technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said the committee set up by the government, headed by the member (technology) in the DoT, A K Bhargava, would look at a range of issues, including security and privacy concerns and the role of telecom service providers.

It isn’t clear whether the committee will hold public consultation on the matter, as it has only a month to submit its report.

Mahesh Murthy, founder of digital marketing agency Pinstorm, said the government should go for much wider consultation on the issue and involve all stakeholders, including the public.

“How can only six people from the DoT decide on the future of internet?” he asked, adding the scrutiny had to be intense and transparent.

On the possibility of Trai and the committee coming out with contradictory views, Prasad said the Telecom Commission would take a final decision.

“Internet is the finest creation of the human mind. . . . We need to strive for non-discriminatory network availability,” he said.

If the reports by the two entities contradict each other, it could lead to friction between the government and Trai.

Trai is inviting public comment on the matter till April 24, and counter-comments by May 8.

Prasad said though it was difficult to comment on the matter before the committee submitted its report, the issue was important in light of the government’s ‘Digital India’ project.

It is expected the committee will look at global best practices, the policy architecture and regulatory and technical responsibilities.

The decision to form a committee followed a few telecom operators such as Bharti Airtel planning to charge separately for internet-based voice calls provided by over-the-top players such as Skype, WhatsApp and Viber, as these were hitting their revenues.

Early this month, India’s largest telecom operator, Bharti Airtel, had launched a platform called Airtel Zero, under which a select list of companies, including start-ups, could offer their apps to Airtel subscribers for free (the app maker would pay the operator for the usage).

This intensified the debate over net neutrality. Earlier, Reliance Communication had also launched a similar service under Facebook’s Internet.Org initiatives, which had also led to some opposition.

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BS Reporter in New Delhi
Source: source

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