CIS's Position on Net Neutrality

Posted by Sunil Abraham at Dec 04, 2015 02:45 AM |
As researchers committed to the principle of pluralism we rarely produce institutional positions. This is also because we tend to update our positions based on research outputs. But the lack of clarity around our position on network neutrality has led some stakeholders to believe that we are advocating for forbearance. Nothing can be farther from the truth. Please see below for the current articulation of our common institutional position.


  1. Net Neutrality violations can potentially have multiple categories of harms — competition harms, free speech harms, privacy harms, innovation and ‘generativity’ harms, harms to consumer choice and user freedoms, and diversity harms thanks to unjust discrimination and gatekeeping by Internet service providers.

  2. Net Neutrality violations (including some those forms of zero-rating that violate net neutrality) can also have different kinds benefits — enabling the right to freedom of expression, and the freedom of association, especially when access to communication and publishing technologies is increased; increased competition [by enabling product differentiation, can potentially allow small ISPs compete against market incumbents]; increased access [usually to a subset of the Internet] by those without any access because they cannot afford it, increased access [usually to a subset of the Internet] by those who don't see any value in the Internet, reduced payments by those who already have access to the Internet especially if their usage is dominated by certain services and destinations.

  3. Given the magnitude and variety of potential harms, complete forbearance from all regulation is not an option for regulators nor is self-regulation sufficient to address all the harms emerging from Net Neutrality violations, since incumbent telecom companies cannot be trusted to effectively self-regulate. Therefore, CIS calls for the immediate formulation of Net Neutrality regulation by the telecom regulator [TRAI] and the notification thereof by the government [Department of Telecom of the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology]. CIS also calls for the eventual enactment of statutory law on Net Neutrality.  All such policy must be developed in a transparent fashion after proper consultation with all relevant stakeholders, and after giving citizens an opportunity to comment on draft regulations.

  4. Even though some of these harms may be large, CIS believes that a government cannot apply the precautionary principle in the case of Net Neutrality violations. Banning technical innovations and business model innovations is not an appropriate policy option. The regulation must toe a careful line to solve the optimization problem: refraining from over-regulation of ISPs and harming innovation at the carrier level (and benefits of net neutrality violations mentioned above) while preventing ISPs from harming innovation and user choice.  ISPs must be regulated to limit harms from unjust discrimination towards consumers as well as to limit harms from unjust discrimination towards the services they carry on their networks.

  5. Based on regulatory theory, we believe that a regulatory framework that is technologically neutral, that factors in differences in technological context, as well as market realities and existing regulation, and which is able to respond to new evidence is what is ideal.

    This means that we need a framework that has some bright-line rules based, but which allows for flexibility in determining the scope of exceptions and in the application of the rules.  Candidate principles to be embodied in the regulation include: transparency, non-exclusivity, limiting unjust discrimination.

  6. The harms emerging from walled gardens can be mitigated in a number of waysOn zero-rating the form of regulation must depend on the specific model and the potential harms that result from that model. Zero-rating can be: paid for by the end consumer or subsidized by ISPs or subsidized by content providers or subsidized by government or a combination of these; deal-based or criteria-based or government-imposed; ISP-imposed or offered by the ISP and chosen by consumers; Transparent and understood by consumers vs. non-transparent; based on content-type or agnostic to content-type; service-specific or service-class/protocol-specific or service-agnostic; available on one ISP or on all ISPs.  Zero-rating by a small ISP with 2% penetration will not have the same harms as zero-rating by the largest incumbent ISP.  For service-agnostic / content-type agnostic zero-rating, which Mozilla terms ‘equal rating’, CIS advocates for no regulation.

  7. CIS believes that Net Neutrality regulation for mobile and fixed-line access must be different recognizing the fundamental differences in technologies.

  8. On specialized services CIS believes that there should be logical separation and that all details of such specialized services and their impact on the Internet must be made transparent to consumers both individual and institutional, the general public and to the regulator.  Further, such services should be available to the user only upon request, and not without their active choice, with the requirement that the service cannot be reasonably provided with ‘best efforts’ delivery guarantee that is available over the Internet, and hence requires discriminatory treatment, or that the discriminatory treatment does not unduly harm the provision of the rest of the Internet to other customers.

  9. On incentives for telecom operators, CIS believes that the government should consider different models such as waiving contribution to the Universal Service Obligation Fund for prepaid consumers, and freeing up additional spectrum for telecom use without royalty using a shared spectrum paradigm, as well as freeing up more spectrum for use without a licence.

  10. On reasonable network management CIS still does not have a common institutional position.