Indias Department of Telecommunications has approved net neutrality rules that ban blocking, throttling, and zero-rating internet data, with some exceptions. The framework, published last year as a recommendation from the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), is the culmination of a years-long campaign for net neutrality in India. As The Wire reports, the new rules prevent any form of discrimination or interference with data, including blocking, degrading, slowing down, or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content. But they dont apply to critical IoT services or specialized services, including autonomous vehicles and remote surgery operations — which The Wire says TRAI head R.S. Sharma compares to ambulances that can legally disobey traffic rules, or in this case, get prioritized status to maintain service quality. Internet service providers will need to agree to the deal when they sign license agreements with the Department of Telecommunications. ISPs that violate the rules could have their licenses canceled. TRAI kicked off its rulemaking process in early 2015 when it called for public comment on possible internet regulations. Activists rallied internet users in favor of net neutrality rules, especially after two companies announced zero-rating plans that critics feared would give wealthy American companies an unfair advantage over local startups. One of these was Facebooks Internet.org or Free Basics project, which offered free access to certain internet services in developing nations. India banned Free Basics in 2016, along with similar zero-rating programs. This approval contrasts with recent developments in the United States, where net neutrality rules were repealed last month. Although some states have introduced their own bills to compensate, including one thats currently moving through the California legislature. At least on paper, India now has what the BBC previously said might be the worlds most progressive policy on equal internet access for all.
The rules prevent throttling, blocking or zero-rating content. While America struggles to retain net neutrality protections on a piecemeal state-by-state level, India just adopted its own seemingly-strong set of rules that largely ban artificial slowing or blocking of content. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) proposed the rules back in November, and the country's official Telecommunications Commission (TC) approved them today, resolving a movement to update internet protections that began in 2015. From today onward, ISPs cannot perform actions involving "blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content," per The Wire's report. Providers are also prohibited from providing zero-rated content. For most material on the internet, anyway. So-called 'critical IoT services' and 'specialised services' are exempt from the new rules, according to TRAI secretary Aruna Sundarajan. These include remote surgery or autonomous vehicles, which Sundarajan compared to laws allowing ambulances to ignore traffic rules. TRAI started calling for public comment on potential changes to internet regulations back in 2015. Shortly thereafter, Facebook introduced its Internet.org (later Free Basics) service in India, which the country banned in 2016 for providing zero-rating content that may have presented an advantage over local companies. Indian regulators did it explicitly to preserve net neutrality. On the other side of the world, America's net neutrality rules died last month at the hands of an FCC headed by a former telecom lawyer. ISPs have been reclassified as a Title I service, shifting them under the FTC's jurisdiction. But at least providers are assuring consumers that they aren't throttling our access.