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India just approved net neutrality rules that ban ‘any form’ of data discrimination

India just approved net neutrality rules that ban ‘any form’ of data discrimination

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Illustration of several Wi-Fi symbols: one filled in with white and the others just outlines.
Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

India’s 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 don’t 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.

The rules include exceptions for remote surgery and self-driving cars

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 Facebook’s 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This approval contrasts with recent developments in the United States, where net neutrality rules were repealed last month.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 that’s currently moving through the California legislature. At least on paper, India now has what the BBC previously said might be “the world’s most progressive policy on equal internet access for all.”