On Valentine’s, we send a love letter for net neutrality to TRAI #SaveTheInternet

IFF's response to TRAI on net neutrality enforcement addresses the need to remove scope for discretion, increase transparency and accountability, boost the local measurement ecosystem, and embrace inclusive multistakeholderism

Tl;dr

Our commitment to our #SaveTheInternet campaign remains steadfast. IFF responded to TRAI’s ongoing public consultation on net neutrality enforcement. We have provided recommendations to ensure India has meaningful net neutrality which goes beyond mere reference within legal systems. Our response addresses the need to remove scope for discretion, increase transparency and accountability, boost the local measurement ecosystem, and build better more-inclusive institutions.

Background

As we have previously written, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is in the midst of a public consultation on net neutrality enforcement. The issue is of course very close to our hearts, since it was the rallying cry which brought together more than a million Indian internet users under the SaveTheInternet.in campaign. It is their collective voices which helped steer telecom authorities in recognising the principles of an open, fair and equitable internet. The principle is meant to help ensure that your internet provider cannot dictate your experience online. You can read about the historicity of the issue here.

The net neutrality principle (which was formalised in July 2018), prohibits your internet provider from discriminating (economically or technically) between different types of internet traffic/applications. Economic disrimination is reasonably easy to detect and is explicitly regulated through the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations, 2016. However, without an actual enforcement regime we noticed that technical discrimination was going ahead unimpeded. As a result we brought back the SaveTheInternet.in campaign and petitioned authorities like TRAI to work towards developing an enforcement framework to internet providers accountable.

Well, yesterday i.e. 13th February, 2020 was the last day for initial comments to TRAI on issues relating to enforcement. The consultation relates to both technical standards on how to identify disproportionate or discriminatory traffic management; and the composition of a multistakeholder institution which will work with Government in framing standards and requirements to uphold the net neutrality principle.

Our Top Concerns and Recommendations:

We have emailed our recommendations to TRAI and IFF’s primary focus is ensuring that the actual implementation of the framework remains individual and user centric. Our aim is to ensure that the framework does not drift towards a scenario where your internet provider has undue influence on the actual enforcement. The primary risks which could arise due to an ineffective framework include:

  • Regulations which offer internet providers a pass and they do not have to publish enough information (in terms of quality and quantity).
  • Vague regulations which offer your provider with enough discretion to discriminate between different types of services on an arbitrary basis. Think of a scenario wherein your gaming streams, P2P file sharing applications or encrypted traffic is performing worse because your internet provider has made some decision behind closed doors.
  • Prolonged “wait and watch approach” could be used as a veil which prevents any enforcement mechanism in the interim.
  • A dearth appropriate traffic measurement systems
  • Finally, if a multistakeholder body, which is meant to be representative of the entire public, and will advise authorities on enforcement is cornered by your internet provider and large internet businesses.

Our recommendations have addressed these issues head-on and provided substantive recommendations to mitigate each of these risks, among other issues. However, there is more to be done and we must remain vigilant.

Next steps and how can you participate!

The consultation remains open and the next stage is the Counter Comments phase. February 27, 2020 is the last day by when the public can submit counter comments to TRAI.

For this stage, we encourage you to read our submission and please feel free to shoot us an email on po[email protected] if you feel we may have missed something or if you wish to provide any inputs. Due to the technical nature of the consultation we would be especially keen on inputs from technical experts, network engineers and other concerned citizens.

You could Sign the “Take Action” Petition: While such enforcement frameworks are being devised and will take time, there exist clear breaches of net neutrality in the form of illegal website blocking by ISPs. This is the clearest form of existing violations of binding license regulations. Join more than 3000 people who have signed on and are asking for immediate action and remedy at SaveTheInternet.in in the meanwhile. You can support this campaign by signing on!

Important Documents

  1. Link to IFF’s submission to TRAI’s consultation (click here)
  2. Link to TRAI’s Consultation Paper on Traffic Management Practices and a Multi-Stakeholder Body dated 2nd January, 2020 (click here)
  3. Link to our 6 page summary of TRAI’s consultation paper (click here)