Monday, June 8, 2015

Net Neutrality

Net Neutrality is a terrible, technical sounding phrase, and suffers for the lack of an easy definition. Here’s how we look at it: Telecom operators/ISPs are access services providers, and can control either how much you access, what you access, how fast you access and how much you pay to access content and services on the Internet.

It’s important for access to knowledge, services and free speech, as well as freedom and ease of doing business online, for this access to be neutral:
– All sites must be equally accessible
– The same access speed at the telco/ISP level for each (independent of telco selection)
– The same data cost for access to each site (per KB/MB).

As of April 2015, there were no laws governing net neutrality in India, which would require that all Internet users be treated equally, without discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. There have already been a few violations of net neutrality principles by some Indian service providers.
The debate on network neutrality in India gathered public attention after Airtel, a mobile telephony service provider in India, announced in December 2014 to levy additional charges for making voice calls (VoIP) from its network using apps like WhatsApp, Skype, etc.

Net Neutrality in India

In March 2015, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released a formal consultation paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services, seeking comments from the public. The consultation paper was criticised for being one sided and having confusing statements. It received condemnation from various politicians and Indian Internet users. The last date for submission of comment was 24 April 2015 and TRAI received over a million emails.
Hidden under the guise of enabling the Indian population with faster and more reliable services, the major players in telecoms, such as Airtel and Reliance, have adopted new policies that could undermine the basic building blocks of Internet access in India.
In addition, the government’s heavy hand and tendencies toward corruption lead to a dangerous road where monopolies run wild in India and smaller startup technology companies are faced with bowing out or being subjected to high costs to even be able to compete.

Role of Government in Net Neutrality

To understand how the current state came to be, let’s first examine the role of the Indian government.
The telecom revolution in India took off when the Indian government led by BJP moved away from auctioning spectrum and to a revenue share model in 2001. The new model allowed players like Airtel and Reliance among many others, to get a foothold, invest in infrastructure and create the most dynamic telecom sector in the world.
US President Barack Obama came in support of Net Neutrality, urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to implement the strongest possible rules to protect net neutrality and ensure that “neither the cable company nor the phone company will be able to act as a gatekeeper, restricting what you can do or see online”.
There are no laws enforcing net neutrality in India. Although TRAI guidelines for the Unified Access Service license promotes net neutrality, it does not enforce it. The Information Technology Act, 2000 also does not prohibit companies from throttling their service in accordance with their business interests. In India, telecom operators and ISPs offering VoIP services have to pay a part of their revenues to the government. Violations of net neutrality have been common in India. Examples beyond Facebook's include Aircel's Wikipedia Zero along with Aircel's free access to Facebook and WhatsApp, Airtel's free access to Google, and Reliance's free access to Twitter.
Let’s hope that Internet will be kept out of the purview of biased politics and may all Internetizens are treated same, without any discriminations.

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