Centre for Internet & Society

Indian net neutrality activists are assured the ongoing net neutrality tussle in the US will have no impact on India.

The article by Kul Bhushan was published in the Hindustan Times on November 23, 2017.

Net neutrality is in the news again. This time it is because the US’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has decided to formally scrap existing protections that are meant to keep access to internet equitable.

India had its own tryst with the idea of net neutrality after it blocked the zero-rating programmes by social networking giant Facebook — which proposed to rollout the Internet.org or Free Basics project in February last year.

A powerful social media campaign made Facebook back down and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to announce that ‘differential pricing’ — a practice where some services or sites are priced in a special manner — will no longer be allowed.

Some people who were at the forefront of the net neutrality campaign in here almost three years ago have expressed their displeasure over the FCC’s move.

“I think the approach the FCC is taking is flawed. Spectrum is a public resource and it needs to be spent on maximisation of public good. That public good, and the utility of the Internet is based on the freedom that people have to create new apps and services, without needing permission from ISPs, or the fear that ISPs might discriminate against them or favour their competitors. This is what net neutrality enables,” said Nikhil Pahwa, founder of publication Medianama and one of the activists.

“By going against Net Neutrality, FCC chairman Ajit Pai is attacking the core of what makes the Internet tick. We didn’t let that happen in India, and instead, focused on increasing competition between ISPs and telecom operators, because of which we’ve see broadband prices drop, quality of service improve, a tremendous growth in Internet users in India. For this, we owe a great debt to all those who supported Net Neutrality, especially the TRAI,” he added.

Apar Gupta, who is closely associated with the ‘Save the Internet’ initiative and is the co-founder of Internet Freedom Foundation, said, “FCC’s move to take back the internet order is a huge setback to the global campaign to ensure open internet because it undermines the net neutrality.”

“I don’t think the development should impact the regulatory process in India considering TRAI’s strong support for net neutrality. I hope that TRAI comes out with a comprehensive network neutrality regulation in the future,” he responded when asked about the possible impact on India of the FCC move.

Sunil Abraham, executive director of Bangalore-based research organisation Centre for Internet and Society, said there should be no impact on India from the FCC move.

He also slammed FCC chief Pai’s attempt to change the existing net neutrality rules. “What Ajit Pai is trying to do he’s not saying he will not regulate. He is saying when companies violate net neutrality principles they should be transparent about it. He hopes the magic of market competition will help resolve the problem,” he said

“Pai’s approach to the net neutrality might work in a market where there is a lot of competition. In the US, there is no competition and that in case damage will be immediate,” he added.