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​India threatens 'stiff' penalties as net neutrality approved: Report

India's telecom secretary Aruna Sundararajan has reportedly approved rules requiring equal access to online content at the same price and speed, with a handful of exceptions for 'emerging' and critical services.

The Indian government has on Wednesday approved the principles of net neutrality, aiming to provide citizens with unrestricted and non-discriminatory online access, The Times of India has reported.

The report details a handful of exceptions to the net neutrality rules, which includes "new and emerging" services such as autonomous driving and tele-medicine or remote-diagnostic services, which by their nature could require prioritised internet lanes and speeds faster than normal.

It is expected, however, that a committee will be looking into further exceptions for critical services.

A "multi-stakeholder" body, comprising mainly government officials, telecom operators, internet service providers (ISPs), and those engaged in Internet of Things platforms, will also be shaped to monitor and enforce net neutrality

"Any deviations and violations of the rules of net neutrality -- which come into effect almost immediately -- will be met with stiff penalties," Department of Telecommunications secretary Aruna Sundararajan is quoted as telling the Times.

Net neutrality is the ideal that all traffic on the internet deserves the same level of priority. Nothing can be throttled, given priority, blocked, or otherwise interfered with, which means the onus is on ISPs to treat traffic fairly.

In order to ensure that they do, proponents say, the government needs to regulate the internet.

Free PDF: Net neutrality: All the details you need to know (TechRepublic)

Under the Indian-specific laws, the Times reports that mobile operators, internet providers, and social-media and internet companies cannot engage in, or seek, preferential treatment.

Zero-rated platforms have also been blocked in India.

Sundararajan also told the publication that internet traffic management by mobile companies will be monitored under the new regime.

"The telecom department will decide on traffic management rules, and will seek recommendations from sector regulator TRAI [Telecom Regulatory Authority of India] on the same," she reportedly added.

The TRAI in 2016 rejected a plan -- "Free Basics" -- by Facebook to provide free access to certain services it controlled; however, the Indian government put a stop to the program over concerns that Facebook violated net neutrality by providing only select online content for free.

In November, TRAI held firm on its net neutrality stance.

"The internet today is a great platform for innovation, startups, banking, government applications such as health, telemedicine, education and agriculture," TRAI's chairman, RS Sharma, said at the time.

"From an Indian context, India has a huge population, huge things are going to happen on the internet. It is important that this platform be kept open and free and not cannibalised."

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