A panel of the telecommunication department on net neutrality is learnt to have opposed projects such as Facebook’s Internet.org, which allow access to certain websites without mobile data charges, while suggesting that similar plans like Airtel Zero be allowed with prior clearance from the telecom regulator.
The panel has 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”, sources said.
Net neutrality implies equal treatment to all Internet traffic and no priority to an entity based on payment to content or service providers such as telecom companies.
The neutrality debate heated up in India after telecom operator Airtel launched a platform, Airtel Zero, which would allow free access of some websites on its network. However, the companies were asked to pay Airtel for joining the platform.
Internet.org, a Facebook-led worldwide initiative that aims to bring 5 billion people online in partnership with tech giants and mobile operators, has been criticised for violating net neutrality principle and favouring Facebook’s own services over its rivals. In India, it has tied up with Reliance Communications. Facebook, however, says the project is pro- Internet access and hence does not violate the principle.
The panel has favoured allowing zero-rating platforms, like Airtel Zero, if operators take prior permission of Telecom Regulatory Authority of India to launch them, and they don’t violate principle of net neutrality, sources said.
The DoT did not respond to e-mail queries on this, while Facebook spokesperson said, “Until we have the DoT panel findings we are not in a position to comment.”
The Internet.org earlier provided restricted Internet access to RCom subscribers. “The panel observed that until April 2015, Internet.org users could have free access for only a few websites... violating net neutrality. In early May, due to severe criticism, Facebook opened it to websites that meet certain criteria,” sources said.
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