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Net neutrality, in-plane cell use in Telecom Commission’s 10-item meet for May 1

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The Telecom Commission’s meeting on May 1, its first since the Budget session of the Parliament closed on April 6, has as many as ten items on the agenda, according to a source familiar with the development.

These include net neutrality, in-flight connectivity, administrative allocation of spectrum bands E and V, ease of doing business, cloud services, machine to machine communication and regulatory framework for internet telephony.

Telecom Commission, headed by the secretary of the department of telecommunications, is the apex decision-making body of the DoT. Not all decisions of the Telecom Commission have to be approved by the Union Cabinet. The Commission usually sets up panels to consider recommendations made by the telecom regulator or even otherwise and then decides whether to give approvals or not to a given panel’s suggestions.

Net neutrality is a sensitive issue world over and not just in India. The Commission will be taking up the suggestions already made by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India that favoured not allowing Internet service providers to cut deals with content companies that would have otherwise enabled preferential treatment to a content company by providing its content at a faster speed compared to a rival’s.

In-flight connectivity for using data and voice services is a lucrative market being eyed both by telecom as well as airline companies. All stakeholders -- including ministry of civil aviation, home ministry, external affairs ministry, air safety regulator -- have given their approvals to allow in-flight connectivity. Issues of safety, jurisdiction and licensing have so far delayed the process. Companies like Lufthansa, Emirates, Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways already offer these services on their flights.

Allocation of spectrum bands E and V is something the telecom companies are looking forward to. These bands enable transmission of data at very high speeds of 1000 megabit per second. These bands are useful for short distance tower-to-tower data transmission and some industry say these frequencies could be used for 5G services as well once the rest of the ecosystem is ready.

There is a possibility of these bands be allotted to existing telecom companies as ‘administrative spectrum’ and not through an auction. Such an allocation of these bands will save the companies the cost of laying the expensive optic fibre, a tedious process that involves seeking permission from the local authorities.

The Commission will also discuss setting up a regulatory framework for Internet telephony, a service that already has the nod of the regulator. If the DoT accepts TRAI recommendations, Internet calls will be possible to any instrument, be it landline or mobile without the users needing to download any app.

Thus, entities like Whatsapp and Skype will also come under the licensing policy and be made to sign interconnect agreements with telecom service providers. It will also be possible to use an app to call on any mobile or landline, doing away with the need for the other user also to have the same app on her mobile.

It must be noted that once true Internet telephony comes to India, only the calling party will need a data connection while it will not be mandatory for the receiver to have a data connection. The receiving consumer will simply benefit from an interconnection pact between her own service provider and that of the calling party.

The Commission will also deliberate on the concept of ‘machine-to-machine’ communication – an emerging area where one device communicates with another, let’s say your mobile telling your washing machine to shut down or the server of your electricity supplier recording the reading of your meter from a distance. As per DoT’s earlier decision, all such machines will have a 13-digit number.