Centre for Internet & Society

India is unlikely to be impacted by the US Federal Communications Commission’s plan to repeal net neutrality regulations.

The article by Surabhi Agarwal was published in the Economic Times on November 23, 2017. Sunil Abraham quoted.

India adopted a pro-net neutrality stand by taking a tough call against zero-rated plans such as Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero last year. According to experts, the Indian telecom regulator showed great courage and conviction by battling any type of preferential treatment of internet websites. This was even after a massive campaign by Facebook in support of its Free Basics programme, which promised access to a few basic services free of cost through partnerships with selected telecom service providers.

“Our regulator now thinks of itself as a forerunner in this space, so we doubt they are going to be influenced by the American move,” said Sunil Abraham, Executive Director of the Centre for Internet and Society in Bengaluru. He called the proposal to withdraw the President Barack Obama era regulations “incredible” since they took almost a decade and lots of debate to be framed. Abraham said there is no evidence to suggest that India copies what the US does and there is a long way to go before the new regulations come in.

“The FCC is just one actor in this game — there are the Congress and the courts along with the Federal Trade Commission,” said Abraham, adding that the proposal is likely to be challenged at multiple levels. “I’m proposing to repeal the heavy-handed Internet regulations imposed by the Obama Administration and to return to the light-touch framework under which the Internet developed and thrived before 2015,” FCC chief Ajit Pai, who worked for Verizon Communications earlier, tweeted on Tuesday. The plan shared by Pai will be put to vote on December 14. Experts expect the plan to go through, given the Republican majority in the FCC and they fear it will allow internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast to give preference to some sites and apps in return for a fee or for their own business interests.

“If it goes through, it will take control away from the user and companies will be free to make fast lanes and favour the content they like and play the gatekeepers,” said Mishi Choudhary, president at Software Freedom Law Centre.

She said the conversation has once again moved the power back to internet service providers, which will hurt small companies on the pretext of innovation and getting away from micro managing. “It is certainly not bolstering the position of the US as a leader for free and open internet,” added Choudhary. Streaming service Netflix tweeted in response saying that it supports strong net neutrality and opposes the FCC’s proposal.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) fought a tough battle in 2016 against plans that promised select internet services to poor people by offering them free of cost. The regulator issued differential pricing regulations by which it banned what’s known as zerorating plans. “Trai showed immense foresight by releasing the rules and this is a good opportunity for India to occupy the vacuum of leadership in this space by providing the right regulatory environment,” said Choudhary.