Net neutrality: Trai receives over 2 lakh mails
The idea of an open internet can bring together not just worried netizens but politicians of all hues.
The article by Sandhya Soman and Jayanta Deka was published in the Times of India on April 14, 2015. Pranesh Prakash gave his inputs.
On a day when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India got more than 2 lakh emails by Monday afternoon from Indian netizens annoyed by possible efforts to make internet an unequal space, AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal and DMK leader MK Stalin also defended net neutrality.
While Kejriwal tweeted that "India MUST debate #NetNeutrality. I support #Saveinternet campaign www.savetheinternet.in", Stalin in his statement said that any move to allow telecom companies to give preferential access to websites would go against the concept of equality.
Telecom minister Ravishankar Prasad, meanwhile, told media that a special DoT panel will come out with its report on net neutrality in May.
The latest fight for net neutrality — the idea that all traffic is treated equally by internet service providers — gained momentum after Trai put up a consultation paper on the topic asking users to give their views before April 24. The paper was in response to demands from telecom companies seeking to splice up internet into various packages so they could charge users based on what websites and services they were using. The companies' specific grouse is against services like Skype, Whatsapp and Viber, which they claim are eating into their profits.
"Net neutrality is about ensuring that ISPs don't end up harming universal access, effective competition and consumer benefit," says Pranesh Prakash, policy director, Centre for Internet and Society. This means that what Airtel was trying to do in December by preventing its customers from accessing WhatsApp, Skype and Viber without paying extra shouldn't be permitted, Prakash says.
One of the worst case scenarios could be the murder of innovation, says Srinivasan Ramani, 'director, National Centre for Software Technology (now, part of C-DAC).
"New ways of doing things are disruptive — Voice over Internet Protocol demonstrated how inexpensive voice calls could be. Video calls over the internet demonstrate what the old telephone technology could not do in a cost-effective manner, can now be done with ease," Ramani says. If ISPs get greater control over the internet they may end up killing the golden goose, he says.
Neutrality of the internet is essential to a wide variety of users, from bloggers, entrepreneurs and to students. "A non-neutral internet is like offering a separate driving lane to people who own a Ferrari, Mercedes or any other luxury vehicle," says Harsh Agrawal, a professional blogger atshoutmeloud.com. He is clear that he can't pay telecom operators to offer better speeds to his blog. "But what if one of my competitors can afford to pay for preferential treatment for his website? It could be a huge loss to me," Agrawal says.
E-commerce startup-founder Catherine Dohling has the same fear. "We want our website to be accessed by anyone who is interested in our products and this should not be governed by which telecom provider a person buys data from," says Dohling, co-founder of TheNorthEastStore.com.
Activists like Lobsang Tseten, who relies on digital media to reach out to people, fear that if there is no net neutrality, it could mean that a huge chunk of the NGO's grassroots base could be taken away unless users pay. "This is a very underhand way of stopping people from accessing certain websites and products," says Tseten, Asia regional coordinator of International Tibet Network.
With many biggies like Flipkart considering Airtel's Zero plan, which aims to offer free consumer browsing for such companies that sign up with the telco, start-up enthusiasts are also troubled. "An internet that is non-neutral would be a huge set-back for people like me who want to create a tech start-up. We would have to factor in a good sum of money for tie-ups with ISPs," says Rahul Kumar, an IIT-Kanpur student.
However, some activists say that some nuances of what is net neutrality are getting lost as the campaign gathers steam. On Monday, several angry netizens tweeted about uninstalling Flipkart's app and actively working to get it down voted. "What we need are regulations that ensure access, competition and benefit consumers instead of proposing specific outcomes or solutions," says Prakash.