Telecom regulator Rahul Khullar on Wednesday said there was a need for a democratic debate on net neutrality, especially against the backdrop of a big corporate war between a media house and a telecom operator.
“There are passionate voices on both sides of the debate. And if that was not enough, there’s a corporate war going on between a media house and a telecom operator which is confounding already difficult matters,” Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman Khullar told The Indian Express.
The regulator is learnt to have received over 800,000 mails since it floated a consultation paper on regulatory framework for over-the-top (OTT) services and applications on March 27. TRAI has requested stakeholders to comment on its paper by April 24 and offer counter comments by May 8. It is also likely to hold an open house discussion on the issue soon.
The consultation paper has a chapter on net neutrality and deliberates on the arguments for and against the principle. It also describes the regulatory framework in foreign jurisdictions. The debate gained fervour after Airtel announced an Airtel Zero plan, wherein users were not being charged for data consumed while browsing the Flipkart site. Facing a backlash by Internet users on social media, Flipkart itself pulled out of the plan.
According to Khullar, there are people who are passionately concerned about net neutrality. “They have a moral anchor… Equally, there are others on the opposite side.
But there are many others in between that one should not ignore despite the passionate nature of the debate between the two extremes. We need a democratic debate on the issue, not shrill voices,” he said.
The regulator has heard arguments on both sides. For instance, telecom service providers have pointed out the contradiction in the government’s digital inclusion agenda, which may not be achieved if they strictly adhere to the net neutrality principle, because they will be unable to raise any additional resources for rolling out networks and infrastructure. On the other hand, OTTs argue that if telecom operators are allowed to pick and chose, they might build alliances with the big OTTs at the cost of the nascent ones.