New Delhi, India — Today the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) announced new rules affecting Net Neutrality and zero-rated programmes. The ruling follows more than a year of concerted activism by Indian civil society groups led by the SavetheInternet.in coalition and many others, including Access Now, which joined in global efforts to pass strong Net Neutrality rules in Brazil, the European Union, and the United States.
“We applaud the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India for taking strong action in protecting Net Neutrality, by laying out clear regulations outlawing discriminatory telecom service provider practices such as ‘zero-rating’”, said Access Now Policy Director Raman Jit Singh Chima. “The publication of these rules demonstrates the sharpening global consensus on preventing network discrimination and protecting the open internet — which is critical to realising our rights to free expression and access to information”.
“TRAI, by banning discriminatory pricing of data, puts individuals, local internet companies, and start-ups on the same footing for reaching internet audiences as large, established companies”, Chima continued. “This historic decision comes at a time where the EU is finalising its own rules on Net Neutrality, in particular around zero rating services, and the US faces legal challenges to its rules. We encourage lawmakers from all around the world to follow India’s lead by protecting access to the full unfettered internet. It is also imperative for Indian policymakers to act on their earlier promises to implement comprehensive Net Neutrality rules to safeguard against abusive behaviour such as throttling or blocking of lawful Internet services”.
- The Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) received more than one million + public comments on the need to protect Net Neutrality in its first consultation in April of 2015, the largest in the agency’s history. This was followed by tens of thousands of specific responses on the need to ban discriminatory practices such as “zero-rated” Internet offerings when the TRAI opened a specific consultation on differential data prices in December 2015.
- In January, Access Now joined in a letter and expert submission filed with civil society and academic groups to the TRAI’s differential data pricing consultation; see the submission here. Access Now has coordinated a coalition of more than 65 organizations from 31 countries worldwide to publish open letters to Mark Zuckerberg calling on the company to protect Net Neutrality. In addition, it has released a letter calling on Facebook to cease its baseless attacks on Net Neutrality supporters in India and worldwide.
- TRAI released these regulations today and they go into immediate effect. They are available online along with their explanatory memorandum here. Some key take-aways:
- These regulations prohibit telecom service providers from offering discriminatory data tariffs or from entering into arrangements with others to provide such programmes. Content-based differential data pricing is not allowed.
- The regulations provide for an exemption for emergency services or for grave public emergencies, but subject to such reporting to TRAI and possibility of subsequent adjudication by it.
- Enforcement: TRAI can order telcos to comply and the regulations provide for financial penalties on service providers for violations.
- There is no harm to consumers already subscribed to voucher packs offering differential data pricing based on content; TRAI’s regulations specify that they can continue to use the unexpired validity on their packs up to another six months — by which time providers must act to ensure that all such packs lapse.
- TRAI’s current order indicates that these regulations will be reviewed in two years.