Telecom companies should not own content, urge net neutrality experts

As the government firms up its policy on ensuring net neutrality, experts urge that disallowing telecom operators from owning any proprietary content could become a direct way to ensure that no specific content is pushed or promoted over others.

At the very least, the principles of net neutrality that guarantees consumers equal and non-discriminatory access to all data, apps and services on the Internet with no discrimination on the basis of tariffs or speed — should be defined in such as way so as to ensure an arm’s length treatment of the proprietary content by a telco, they say.

There is a conflict of interest when a telecom operator plays the dual role of content and carriage provider,” says Nikhil Pahwa, the founder of online news portal Medianama and one of the prime movers behind the campaign for net neutrality.

“The challenge is beyond just a telecom operator owning the proprietary content,” says Prasanth Sugathan, counsel at Software Freedom Law Center. “How will the government ensure there is no throttling or prioritisation of any content? The purpose will be defeated even if telecom service providers enter into agreements with other content providers and give certain content preference over the rest.” Sugathan says that certain plans like the zero-rating plans recently announced by Airtel could lead to prioritisation of certain content without the telecom operator even owning any.

Zero rating plans allow a user to browse certain websites free of cost and the cost is usually paid by the content provider to the telecom operator. Such plans too need to be checked, Sungathan said.

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