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New Digital India Bill to reinforce net neutrality regulations

The upcoming Digital India Bill, which will replace the IT Act 2000, may reinforce the net neutrality regulations laid down by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in 2016.

This comes at a time when startups and telcos have locked horns over the principles, and over 100 startup founders have written to TRAI urging the regulator to strengthen net neutrality principles.

The bill may prohibit intermediaries from going against the provisions of the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services Regulations (2016) — TRAI’s norms which upheld net neutrality principles.

In response to a net neutrality debate that emerged in 2015 due to a proposal by a few telecom companies to double charge consumers, the Prohibition of Discriminatory Tariffs for Data Services was introduced in 2016.

The regulation disallowed service providers “to offer or charge discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content being accessed by a consumer”.

Additionally, according to a version of the draft of the Digital India Bill available with Moneycontrol, the bill may not prevent intermediaries from providing different offerings, but the government will ensure that offerings “do not discriminate or cause exclusionary effects” against citizens.

Failing to comply with these provisions, may attract penalties on intermediaries.

It is important to note that the version of the bill may not be the final one, and the government is set to release the final draft for consultation soon. Moneycontrol has reached out to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology for comments on the matter and the article will be updated when a response is received.

A look at the net neutrality debate
Last week, around 125 startup founders including Paytm’s Vijay Shekhar Sharma, PhonePe’s Sameer Nigam, Zerodha’s Nithin Kamath, Razorpay’s Harshil Mathur, and People Group’s Anupam Mittal, sent a letter to TRAI requesting it to strengthen the net neutrality principles that were outlined by the government in 2016.

This was in response to suggestions made by telecom service providers Reliance Jio, Bharti Airtel, and Vodafone Idea that internet companies should pay telcos for telecom network costs based on the traffic these platforms generate and other such parameters.

Critics have said that this proposal of the telcos can dilute net neutrality principles and that it may drive smaller players out of the market, limit user choice, and so on.

Recently, Minister of State for Electronics and Information Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar also reaffirmed that he was an ally to the principle of net neutrality.

“Net Neutrality in India was a hard-fought battle for those who remember – which started during the UPA govt and peaked in 2015/2016. I led an effort where over 5 lac Indians wrote to @TRAI opposing efforts of some Telcos to cabelize the Internet & double dip/charge,” Chandrasekhar said in a tweet.

What the Digital India Bill may have
The upcoming Digital India Bill will replace the over-two-decades-old Information Technology Act and provide comprehensive oversight mechanisms over the digital landscape.

Moneycontrol had earlier reported how the bill may bring in provisions bolstering algorithmic accountability, including empowering citizens to opt from being subjected to an algorithm’s decisions, albeit with riders.

The government may also bring in provisions that would prohibit certain new and emerging technologies if they are likely to cause harm to users, discriminate against a group, or it poses a threat to national security. Moneycontrol

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