One of the main reasons that the consultation paper prepared by India's telecom regulator covering net neutrality, among other things, became controversial was its tone. By and large, it seemed as if the way questions and arguments had been framed in the paper had come directly from telecom company talking points. The worry for neutrality activists was that this meant the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India had already made up its mind and the government would follow suit.

But some of these fears should be dispelled by telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad's statement on Tuesday to the Rajya Sabha about net neutrality – the idea that traffic to all websites and services on the internet should be treated the same, with no discrimination by speed or price.

For starters, Prasad enunciated a clear, unequivocal commitment to the idea of neutrality. "Let me begin by making a commitment, an assurance to this honourable House and through the House to the people of India – this government is committed to the fundamental principles and concept of net neutrality, that is, keep the Internet accessible and available to all without discrimination," Prasad said.

He went on to talk nevertheless about why a debate over specific aspects of neutrality was necessary for the nation, while announcing that in addition to TRAI con0ultation process, his ministry also has a committee looking into the question. "The committee is expected to submit its recommendations by this month end. The government will then take a structured view on the way forward. I assure this Honourable House that the key principles of net neutrality will be followed while addressing concerns with a national outlook," Prasad said (emphasis added).

The last portion of the statement is key.  The debate over neutrality has included several questions about the way the market should be regulated, whether the government should be allowed to interfere with the functioning of companies and what our regulatory framework aims to achieve. Prasad reiterated that the guiding light with regards the policy would not be the liberties of the telecom companies, which have already given up some of their freedom in applying for telephony licence, but the government's policy objectives.

He explained how this would play out. First, even if TRAI sticks to the tone of its consultation paper, which seemed to be leaning towards violating neutrality, the government would still be able to overrule the independent regulator. "A particular TRAI formation tries to take a policy decision which is not in tune with country’s needs and country’s future; the government must have the right to give direction as a matter of policy to intervene," he said. "By doing that, we are not compromising the independence of TRAI. We are fulfilling our obligation to the people of India."
"Regardless of whatever TRAI does, the final decision is going to be that of the Government and the Government alone. And, Sir, the Government's commitment is reflected in the statement that I made wherein I have said that the Government stands for a nondiscriminatory access of internet to the entire people of India," Prasad said.

Second, there is a simple way to enforce the architecture of an internet where neutrality is mandatory.

"We have got a proper licencing condition when we give any licence to any telecom service operator," Prasad said. "Terms and conditions are mentioned in the licence itself. Suppose – it is purely hypothetical; I am not giving my final view – the Government comes out with structured guidelines laying down the principles of net neutrality. It can make those guidelines as a part of the licencing condition itself. It is only a hypothetical proposition that I am saying. But, all these options are open."

The government will still have to spell out what they mean and hope to achieve with neutrality. The secretary of the Department of Telecom for example has suggested that zero-rated services (internet services for which telecom do not charge a fee) would be violating the principles of neutrality. Prasad himself clarified that blocking or deliberate slowing down of legal content on the net would also violate this. But the precise contours of a potential neutrality law have yet to be ascertained, although the government has now made its clearest indication yet.