The Department of Telecom’s panel on net neutrality is opposed to Facebook’s Internet.org project but fine with Airtel Zero. The panel has submitted its report to the Telecom Minister. Remember that episode from Big Bang Theory where they miss the movie and Sheldon says, “I informed you thusly, I so informed you thusly!” That somehow sounds so apt right now after the DoT’s decision. For the uninitiated, the Airtel Zero initiative allows access to certain websites with zero mobile data charges, while users will be charged for those who aren’t under the plan. Before we get ahead of ourselves, do note that this is a recommendation made by the panel right now and not the DoT's final decision.
The DoT panel has also stated that “collaborations between telecom operators and content providers that enable such gate-keeping role to be played by any entity should be actively discouraged”, said a report by PTI. Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had earlier stated that the panel’s report will be out soon. While the panel has ruled in favour of Airtel Zero, it has also said that prior permission of telecom regulator TRAI should be taken before telecom regulators can go ahead with such plans.
According to reports, the DoT panel report says that the a penalty or fine should be levied on telecom operators if their plans are in violation of net neutrality, which has to be defined by the government. It also says that content and application providers can’t be allowed to be the gatekeepers for such services. The panel reportedly felt that there are a multitude of tariff plans that can be designed, and proposed ‘ex-ante’ and ‘ex-post regulation’ model for zero rating plans.
The ex-ante determination would mean that telecom companies will follow the current norms where tariffs are filed with TRAI and the telecom regulator then decides whether to allow the plan or not.
The concept of net neutrality states that all Internet traffic should be treated equally, without any preferential treatment for any company or organisation for their content. Airtel Zero is a plan that has been embroiled in controversy for breaking this rule. If you don’t know yet, this article about net neutrality should help you get a very good idea of what net neutrality is.
Internet.org on the other hand is an initiative taken by social networking giant Facebook, which aims to provide Internet to over remote areas. The initiative has been undertaken in partnership with companies like Qualcomm, Samsung and Reliance Communications in India among others. This project has also been accused of violating the principles of net neutrality.