Amid the raging debate on net neutrality, the Competition Commission of India (CCI) has said it is looking into possible abuse of dominance by telecom and Internet companies. There are rising concerns over maintaining equal access to Internet amid some service providers entering into tie-ups for offering free access to certain mobile apps and websites. Also Read - Google probed by India's antitrust watchdog for alleged abuse of Android market dominanceAlso Read - Internet groups claim that telecom operators are blocking Reddit and Telegram in India
Against this backdrop, CCI member U C Nahta said that it is looking into whether entities are abusing their dominant position. The regulator is trying to understand whether such practices are just sectoral or tariff issues or whether they violate competition norms. Also Read - Indian telecom companies including Reliance Jio blocking websites including Soundcloud, Telegram
It is looking into whether telecom operators and Internet service providers are indulging in unfair business ways by extending preferential treatment to select mobile applications and websites. CCI, which keeps a tab on unfair business practices across sectors, orders a detailed probe into a matter only if there is prima-facie evidence of fair trade norms.
The principle of Net Neutrality implies equal treatment to be accorded to all Internet traffic, without discrimination or priority for any person, entity or company. Recently, Bharti Airtel launched ‘Airtel Zero’ – an open marketing platform that allows customers to access a variety of mobile applications for free, with the data charges being paid by start-ups and large companies.
Over the past few months, operators like Reliance Communications and Uninor have tied up with players like Facebook, WhatsApp and Wikipedia to offer free usage to consumers. Such moves are being seen as going against the net neutrality concept, which broadly refers to equal treatment for all Internet traffic. Giving priority to mobile applications or websites, based on payment is seen as discrimination.
TRAI has floated a consultation paper on the topic. In response to its paper, for which public comments have been sought till April 24, TRAI has already been flooded with over 8 lakh petitions against any attempt to throttle the ‘Net Neutrality’ concept.
Recently, however, TRAI Chairman Rahul Khullar said that “shrill voices” would not win the debate and the concept is not “practiced strictly” even in countries like the US and the UK.