The debate on net neutrality has been going on globally for some time. It has become scorching hot in India, after the telecom regulator TRAI came out with its discussion paper on this subject and then the leading telecom company Airtel started offering a zero-cost service to netizens for visiting corporate sites and apps.
Before coming to the debate and how it might even impact blogging, a few lines on What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality means keeping the internet neutral, i.e. not letting internet providers favour or disfavour net services based on content, source, etc. It means, internet providers [=Internet Service Providers and Mobile Internet Service Providers or Telecom Service Providers] cannot say, they’d give more speed if you browse a particular content or a particular app and reduce the speed if you go to another site.
Now the debate on #NetNeutrality
TRAI recently came out with a consultation paper [You can download the pdf here], seeking public views on regulation of the 'over the top' services. In simple words, these are all IT services or apps that you get over mobile phones. TRAI has sought views on the matter by 24th April.
What has raised heckles of netizens is some assumptions in the consultation paper that give the idea that TRAI might be trying to help telecom companies earn more by prioritising internet towards services that are paid for by corporates.
Airtel, about a week back, offered Airtel Zero, a platform that allows companies to offer their services free to customers after making payment to Airtel.
There are reports that India’s prominent e-commerce venture, Flipkart, has pulled out of discussions with Airtel on joining Airtel Zero, after its app on Google Play started getting voted down by net neutrality supporters.
Facebook’s offer of Internet.org services, though with a supposedly noble cause of providing free internet services where these don’t exist or can’t be accessed, does violate the principle of net neutrality.
Well, why is it such a big deal, you might wonder, when consumers get the services and products free. In fact, Airtel CEO recently defended the company's stand on these lines: Offering products by charging companies but levying no data costs from customers is a regular industry practice… This does not affect internet being provided to others… The debate over net neutrality should in fact be on net equality…
But the above logic is not that straight-forward. What might happen is that big companies and these internet providers may join hands and ensure that when you go to these big companies’ websites or apps, you have great internet width while you get frozen pics or hanging pages when you visit others, mostly free sites and blogs.
Eventually, lack of neutrality has the potential to kill the free web, as it is freedom that makes it such a vibrant and creative place. In addition, newcomers / startups will have a tough time reaching their services and products to netizens, and it will dry up innovation.
There is great support for #NetNeutrality on the social media, and it is growing by the day. A support group has opened a site, http://savetheinternet.in, which gives a straight format for petitioning TRAI against the assumptions made in its consultation paper. As of now over 300 thousand emails have been sent to TRAI so far.
AIB's funny but informative 'Save the Internet' video on YouTube explains how TRAI premises could fatten telecom companies' pockets at the cost of other stakeholders. Believe it, the 3-day old video has already been seen 1.6 million times already!
Many organisations, political parties and celebrities have joined the chorus - sometimes just for being in the news, and looking progressive and anti-establishment.
What do American, European and Indian authorities say?
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), in February 2015, ruled in favour of net neutrality by adopting the Open Internet Rules. In essence, these rules prohibit blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation of internet.
The European Parliament, about a year back, passed a law to keep the net fully neutral. But now, the European Council has voted that some 'specialized' services can be prioritised. What these services will be is not known.
Only yesterday, India’s Communications and IT Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, clarified that the government favoured non-discriminatory use of internet. He announced setting up of a committee independent of TRAI, which will give its report in about a month. If the recommendations of TRAI and this committee differ, the matter will be referred to the country’s topmost policy maker on ICT matters, the Telecom Commission.