Telecom Commission approves Net neutrality

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The Telecom Commission, the apex decision-making body in the telecom ministry, on Wednesday approved Net neutrality by backing the principles of a free and open internet and also cleared the new telecom policy, which could garner investments of over $100 billion by 2022.

“The Telecom Commission has approved Net neutrality as recommended by Trai except some critical services that will be kept out of its purview,” telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan told reporters on Wednesday.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had prohibited discriminatory treatment of content and practices such as blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content.

Trai had, however, allowed fast lanes for specialised services that the DoT would define, and had permitted telcos to use traffic management practices to maintain quality of service. It also kept “content delivery networks” out of the ambit of Net neutrality.

The commission has also approved the new telecom policy, which will be sent for cabinet approval, Sundararajan said.

The new telecom policy, or National Digital Communications Policy, is aimed at creating jobs and getting investments of more than $100 billion into India by 2022.

“A light-touch regulatory approach should be adopted so that innovation is not hampered by the Net neutrality rules. Many of the 5G applications will have stringent data communication requirements such as high reliability or minimal delay, which require traffic management techniques,” Rajan S. Mathews, director general of the COAI, said.

“Everybody in the meeting on Wednesday said that digital infrastructure is even more important than physical infrastructure for India… CEO of Niti Ayog (Amitabh Kant) said that for … districts, we must ensure digital infrastructure is provided at the earliest. Therefore, India must have ease of doing business and enabling policy environment,” she said.

The policy also aims at providing broadband connectivity to every citizen with a speed of 50 megabit per second.

“Provide universal broadband coverage at 50 Mbps to every citizen. Provide 1 Gbps connectivity to all gram panchayats of India by 2020 and 10 Gbps by 2022,” the draft said.

The policy, taking into account the capital-intensive nature of the sector, proposes to invite sustainable investment over a period of time and promote fair competition.

An official, who was part of the meeting, said that the commission had approved installation of around 12.5 lakh WiFi hotspots in all gram panchayats with viability gap funding of around Rs 6,000 crore by December 2018.

The draft also proposes to address the woes of the debt-ridden telecom sector by reviewing licence fees, spectrum use charges and universal service obligation fund levy, all of which add to the cost of telecom services under the new policy.

With a debt of nearly Rs 8 lakh crore in the sector, revenue and profitability of operators have come under severe pressure amid brutal competition, accelerated by the entry of aggressive newcomer Reliance Jio.

This has also led to rapid consolidation through mergers, acquisitions and exits in the sector.

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