GOVERNMENT OF INDIA
Ministry of Communication and Information Technology
UNSTARRED QUESTION NO. 1439
ANSWERED ON MAY 08, 2015
Position on Net Neutrality
1439. SHRI RAJEEV CHANDRASEKHAR:
Will the Minister of COMMUNICATION AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY be pleased to state;
whether in view of the fact that a committee has been formed withinthe Ministry to evolve its position on Net Neutrality, Government would ensure that the position on Net Neutrality is discussed in the Parliament and with the public, the details thereof ?
THE MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
(SHRI RAVI SHANKAR PRASAD)
Government notes with assurance the growth of internet in India and wide platform it has offered for innovation, investment and creativity. Government is committed to the fundamental principles and concept of net neutrality and strives for non-discriminatory access to internet for all citizens of the country.
At present, the issues pertaining to net neutrality are in consultation stage. Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has released a consultation paper on “Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top services” on 27th March, 2015 for inviting comments from various stakeholders. This consultation paper also covers the issues related to Net Neutrality. The last date for receiving comments and counter comments is 24th April, 2015 and 8th May, 2015 respectively. Further, this consultation paper is available on TRAI website www.trai.gov.in.
Department of Telecommunications has constituted a committee in January, 2015 to examine various aspects of net neutrality and recommend overall policy and technical response to net neutrality. The committee has already held stakeholder consultation meetings with Over the Top (OTT) players, Telecom Service Providers/Internet Service Providers, Civil Society Member & Consumer groups, Multi stakeholder Advisory Group (MAG) of Department of Electronics & Information Technology (DeitY) and various Associations/Industry bodies. The committee has been asked to submit its report by May, 2015 end.
Further, Statement on Calling Attention Notice by Sh. Derek O’ Brien Hon’ble MP, Rajya Sabha on ‘Issue of safeguarding Net Neutrality in the country’ was made by Hon’ble Minister of Communications & IT on 05.05.2015 and he replied on various queries, issues and aspects raised by Hon’ble Members of Rajya Sabha. (Copy of statement is annexed).
Based on the report of committee and TRAI recommendations Government will take a considered decision.
STATEMENT TO BE MADE BY SHRI RAVI SHANKAR PRASADTHE HON'BLE MINISTER OF COMMUNICATIONS ANDINFORMATION TECHNOLOGY ON 05.05.2015 REGARDINGCALLING AITENTION NOTICE GIVEN BY SHRI DEREK O' BRIENHON'BLE M.P., RAJYA SABHA ON THE 'ISSUE OFSAFEGUARDING NET NEUTRALITY IN THE COUNTRY'
Let me begin by making a commitment, an assurance to this Honourable Houseand through the House to the people of India - this Government is committed tothe fundamental principles and concept of net neutrality i.e. keep the Internetaccessible and available to all without discrimination. Within 100 days ofassumption of office, the Government under the leadership of the PrimeMinister, Shri Narendra Modi, initiated the programme of Digital India in amission mode, designed to transform India into a digitally empowered societyand knowledge economy. Digital India is designed to bridge the divide betweenthe digital haves and digital have-nots and reach digital connectivity to a billioncitizens. Digital India has basically three components: (a) creation of digitalinfrastructure as a utility for the citizen of India; (b) digital delivery of services; and (c) digital empowerment of citizens. Digital connectivity has emerged as akey driver of economic and social development in an increasingly knowledgeintensive global scenario, in which India needs to play a leadership role. Theprogramme is designed to ensure that the socio-economic scenario across Indiais transformed through accelerated equitable and inclusive economic growth bylaying special emphasis on providing affordable and quality access to broadband and the Internet in rural and remote areas. We are confident thatsustained adoption of technology would offer viable options in overcomingdevelopmental challenges in education, health, employment generation,financial inclusion and a host of other services designed to make life moremeaningful. We recognise that digital technology can afford means for millionsof our citizens to improve their economic lives.
The world has changed so much in a short time. Countries across the worldhave moved from an emphasis on physical connectivity to economicconnectivity and lately to digital connectivity. At the heart of digitalconnectivity is the public Internet - which has connected near and far, poor andrich alike. Internet is a new technology - its protocols were written not morethan forty years ago. The public Internet - the worldwide web - is only 23 yearsof age. In this short span of time, it has come to occupy the centre of the world.This has been made possible by the open, democratic structure of the publicInternet - equal and accessible to all those who are connected to the network. InIndia too, the new age economic growth is being fuelled by the Internet. This
Government notes with confidence the growth of Internet in India and wideplatform it has offered for innovation, investment and creativity. In particular the Government compliments the initiative and entrepreneurship of the young inmaking India a power-house in Information Technology (IT) and InformationTechnology Enabled Services (ITES). Studies by the Indian Council forResearch on International Economic Relations (ICRJER) show that every 10%increase of internet subscribers leads to 1.08% increase in our GDP. A similarstudy by the World Bank showed that for every 10% increase in broadbandleads to 1.3% growth in national GDP. While it has significant macroeconomiccontribution towards growth, productivity and employment, its empoweringinfluence not only benefits large enterprises but also start-up entrepreneurs &individual citizen.
The Internet has also emerged as a destination for public discourse. In a free,democratic country, the Internet has increasingly become an important platformof information dissemination and exchange of opinion and views. Just as Indiavalues its constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech and expression, it alsovalues an Internet that is open. Discourse on Internet on a variety of issues hasled to the empowerment of the common man.
While reiterating this Government's commitment to the core principles of net-neutrality, we must recognise that there are nuances to the issue which needs deliberation to make it more meaningful. If this had not been so, the issue of netneutrality would not have become an issue of debate and litigation across theworld - even in the Western world - where the Internet occupies a much morecentral role in the nation's economy and society. I have had occasion to studythe debate on net neutrality in the United States of America from where Internetoriginated. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), thecommunications regulator in USA, declared a set of regulation for an openInternet in 2010. These regulations were challenged in U.S Courts by InternetService Providers and were struck down in January 2014. Thereafter, FCC cameout with a consultation paper in May 2014 that asked for a response, amongstother questions, to a query as to whether 'paid prioritisation' that permitsInternet Service Providers to charge content providers to provide greaterbandwidth for their end-users, should be allowed. FCC was swamped by overthree million mails in response to the consultation paper. The recent FCC rulesannounced in February 2015 have been decided by the regulator with a slim 3-2majority and have promptly been challenged in U.S Federal Courts. As permedia reports, the European Commission is meeting in early May to decide onwhether Over-the Top (OTT) players who provide communication services overthe Internet should be regulated.
The debate in India has also gathered over the suo moto consultation paper issued by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) which askedfor responses to a number of questions concerning the regulation of OTT,players. If the issue did not have nuances to it, why then would experts and regulators all over the world be breaking their heads over it.
It is, therefore, imperative that we not only preserve but also foster non-discriminatory Internet ecosystem, wherein Telecom Service Providers, Contentand application providers, industries, entrepreneurs and above all, all the citizenof the country have a stake. Government stands for ensuring non-discriminatory access to Internet for all citizens of the country and currentdebate on Net Neutrality should be seen from this perspective whileresolving the issues harmoniously and consistent with constitutional andeconomic principles.
What is net neutrality? Professor Tim Wu, who coined the word "netneutrality", stated that "network neutrality is best defined as a network designprinciple. The idea is that a maximally useful public information network aspires to treat all content, sites and platforms equally. This allows the networkto carry every form of information and support every kind of application."NetNeutralitythus refers to non-discrimination of data packets by intermediatenetwork of Internet on the basis of content, application, service, device, senderor recipient address etc. Generally, it places the requirement on TelecomService Providers to treat all internet traffic on an equal basis. Net-Neutralityhas many dimensions impacting economic, regulatory and public policy aspects.Government agrees with the viewpoint that blocking & deliberate slowingdown/ speeding up of lawful content on Internet should not be allowed andcustomers should have unrestricted access to all lawful content on internet.There would be instances, such as traffic management, national security,integrity of the network, investment in infrastructure etc. where the implicationsof net neutrality would need detailed expert examination. This is whatgovernments and regulators all over the world are grappling with.
I am informed that very few countries have opted for specific legislation forenforcement of Net Neutrality provisions. In its recently released report "2014Web Index", Web Foundation has found in its study across 86 countries that74% of countries lack clear and effective net neutrality rules and/or showevidence of price discrimination. On the basis of measures undertaken toenforce net-neutrality, nations can be broadly divided in three categories:
As per the Telecom Regulatory_ Authority of India (TRAI) Act, TRAI makesrecommendations to Government on regulating various aspects of telecomsector through a transparent, open public consultation process. TRAI hasissued, suo moto, a consultation paper "Regulatory Framework for Over-thetopservices" on 27.03.2015. While TRAI has the power to regulate tariff andquality of service, its regulations are subject to the overall public policy ofGovernment. On other issues, TRAI can make recommendations and finaldecision rests with Government. Even on tariff and quality of serviceregulation, these have to be in accordance and consistent with public policy andthe Government has sufficient powers under the TRAI Act to invoke itsnational policy objectives to give directions to TRAI.
The Government has also separately constituted a committee with the mandateto recommend overall policy and technical responses to Net Neutrality. TheCommittee has already held stakeholder consultation meetings with Over theTop (OTT) players, Telecom Service Providers/ Internet Service Providers,Civil Society Members & Consumer groups, Multi stakeholder Advisory Group(MAG) of the Department of Electronics & Information Technology (DeitY) &various Associations/Industry bodies. The committee is expected to submit itsrecommendations by this month end. The Government will then take astructured view on the way forward. I assure this Honourable House that the keyprinciples of net neutrality will be followed while addressing concerns with a national outlook.