Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on net neutrality with The Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC). The MoU was signed by TRAI chairman Ram Sewak Sharma and BEREC chairman Johannes Gungl. They also adopted a “Joint Statement for an Open Internet”, pledging to work together to ensure that the internet remains an open and non-discriminatory platform. The MoU commits the two regulators to “collaborate closely and expose their common understanding of net neutrality” and to co-operate in sharing information that would help in enforcing net neutrality rules.
Memorandum of understanding
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) and European telecoms regulator group BEREC have jointly backed an open internet while calling for effective regulation of electronic communications even as net neutrality rules officially expired in the US earlier this. Trai and BEREC (Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications) inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU), underscoring their “common understanding of the building blocks of net neutrality rules” and core aspects of the regulators’ mission in preserving them, the Indian telecom regulator said in joint statement.
In a joint statement, Trai and BEREC emphasised that the internet must remain an open and non-discriminatory platform, adding the goal of the MoU is to encourage a cooperative relationship between the parties and support respective efforts at addressing current and future regulatory challenges.
“Net neutrality is a vital principle and an open internet is crucial for people around the globe. We are happy to have Trai as a partner to ensure a univocal protection of net neutrality principles for internet access services,” BEREC Chair Johannes Gungl said in the statement.
Trai Chairman R S Sharma, in turn, said “it is important that the internet is kept as an open and non-discriminatory platform” as it will continue to be “an enabler of growth and innovation for countries like India” who can use technology to leapfrog to the next stage of development. The Trai-BEREC partnership will also engage in regular exchanges in implementing net neutrality rules.
The united Indo-European telecom regulatory position on implementing non-discriminatory internet access — known as net neutrality – comes merely four days after open internet rules expired in the US, legally arming internet service providers (ISPs) there with sweeping powers to slow down, block or even offer paid prioritisation to some websites.
Trai Chairman R S Sharma said, “We consider that the internet will continue to be an enabler of growth and innovation for countries like India who can use technology to leapfrog to the next stage of development. Therefore, it is important that the internet is kept as an open and non-discriminatory platform. Our MoU with BEREC gives us an opportunity to not only work closely together in areas like net neutrality, but also to collaborate in areas where the EU has adopted a very effective regulatory framework like consumer protection, broadband development and promotion of NGA rollout.
BEREC Chair Johannes Gungl said, “Net neutrality is a vital principal and an open internet crucial for people around the globe. We are very happy to have TRAI as a partner to ensure a univocal protection of net neutrality principles for internet access services.”
Last December, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had repealed the 2015 Obama Administration’s net neutrality rules, which had unleashed strident criticism on social media websites and opposition from internet firms like Facebook and Alphabet Inc.
Nevertheless, the Trai-BEREC joint statement, reaffirming their faith in an open internet, comes ahead of a crucial meeting of the Telecom Commission — the highest decision-making body in the telecom ministry – on June 29 where TRAI’s recommendations on the hotly-debated subject will be taken up for approval.
India’s telecom regulator and the government have backed an open internet and are opposed to discriminatory treatment of content. In its recommendations to the government on implementing net neutrality, issued last November, the Trai had suggested changes to telco licence conditions to bar blocking or slowing down of content although it allowed fast lanes for specialised services and keeping content delivery networks outside the ambit of net neutrality.
Trai has advocated that internet services be governed by a principle that restricts any form of discrimination or interference in the treatment of content, including practices such as blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content.
A telecom department panel, back in 2015, had come out with a report on the topic, also backing an open Internet, but had suggested regulating over-the-top players, or apps, like Whatsapp and Skype which provide similar communication services similar to mobile phone operators, to ensure a level-playing field between the two sides. The TC later this month will consider both reports to arrive at a comprehensive policy on net neutrality.
Besides working together on implementing net neutrality rules, Sharma said both Trai and BEREC plan to collaborate in areas such as consumer protection, broadband development and promotion of next-generation access rollouts where the European Union (EU) has adopted a very effective regulatory framework.