November 29, 2017

India's TRAI backs open internet rules, US's FCC to repeal existing rules too!

Indian Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) has come out with strict recommendations on net neutrality. In short, any internet service provider in India will not be able to carve slow and fast lanes and discriminate the former with selective content. These recommendations are required to be adopted by the government before they come into force.

TRAI has recommended that Internet of Things (IoT) services should also come under the non-discriminatory clause. A multi-stakeholder body for monitoring and enforcement is also recommended.

With that, Indian policy makers have completely rejected free offers such as those from Facebook.com and Airtel.com in the name of serving the poor who otherwise cannot have net facilities. The issue is using discriminatory practices in providing net and content; specialized services are excluded from net neutrality provisions. (You can see a detailed discussion on this matter in this article: Net Neutrality: what lies ahead...)

Net neutrality activists have applauded this move, seen to be way ahead of US stand on net neutrality. In fact, the Federal Communications Commissions is having a vote on repealing the existing net neutrality rules soon.

You can visit the recommendations here:   TRAI recommendations on Net Neutrality; November 2018

There are a good number of critics of net neutrality too, especially in India's context. Facebook chief, Mark Zuckerberg pitched for its 'Free Basics' fervently on his visit to India last year, promising to connect the huge number of un-connected Indians in one go and without their need to pay a penny. This editorial of Financial Express concludes that net neutrality is not an issue and TRAI is fussing over it for nothing:
Nor has Trai been able to justify its opposition to Facebook’s Free Basics – free access to a stripped-down version of various sites for people that did not have internet access. Net neutrality activists and some politicians argued India was for the “full internet” and did not want “walled gardens”. It was argued that only a few companies would be able to meet Facebook’s specifications and so they would benefit unduly – it didn’t seem to matter than at least people were getting some version of the internet and that they could graduate to the “full internet” when they had the money. When a telco offered a plan that gave free access to the website of a particular company, this was said to be anti-net-neutrality since only a handful of firms could afford to subsidize users on their sites – since a Flipkart, say, can afford to give free data to users to access its site while a Gokart can’t, this was said to be against the principle of a level playing field. That nowhere in the world do all companies have the same access to capital or talent or raw materials was something that neither Trai nor the activists/politicians even considered. At the end of the long – and not yet complete – exercise, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that what Trai has offered is a solution looking for a problem.

In the US, FCC seems to be leading the charge on behalf of telecom operators!


Interestingly, the FCC head, Ajit Pai, has taken on votaries of net neutrality in the US. In his speech yesterday, he called celebrity tweets in support of net neutrality as 'utterly absurd'. He also was critical of Twitter, a votary of net neutrality, of filtering content on its platform which, he says, goes against the concept of free internet. FCC is actively considering to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order, and Pai is confident to do so with the help of Republican commissioners in FCC on 14th December. 

In the US, the fight of net neutrality is being fought fiercely between tech companies on one hand (Twitter, Google, Reditt...) and telecom providers (AT&T, Verizone). This round seems to have gone to the telecom companies. You can have your own arguments based on which way you look at things.

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