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Thursday, April 23, 2015

Net Neutrality - The Debate Continues!

The debate of net neutrality is raging not only in India, but the rest of the world too, and not without reason. There is a lot to be worried about, for all the people who are using the internet, as the freedom to browse the network is in danger of being controlled or regulated by certain telecom companies and Internet Service Providers (ISP) who are trying to discriminate or block certain applications over others. 

What is this Net Neutrality all about? For those of you who still don’t have a clue:-

Net neutrality (also network neutrality, Internet neutrality, or net equality) is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.” 

The idea of an open Internet is the idea that the full resources of the Internet and means to operate on it are easily accessible to all individuals and companies.” (Wikipedia)

The whole debate on net neutrality, in India, intensified when telecom operators like Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance put across the proposal to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to allow them to block certain apps and websites to extort more money from consumers and businesses. 

In fact, it was Mark Zuckerberg who approached Reliance with his plan to bring Facebook to millions of Indians who were not yet using the internet, via service is available to all the GSM (Postpaid/Prepaid) & CDMA (Prepaid) Mobile Customers of Reliance exclusively. Read all the terms of their services here. Basically, app will offer free access to 38 sites including Facebook. This is somewhat like what we pay to watch cable TV, where we have to subscribe certain bundles of channels that we wish to watch. These channels are then priced accordingly. So, we are actually paying for the “service” of getting cable TV connectivity and then paying for the individual channels as well. This is what is being done here as well.

Following suit, Airtel came up with their own plan called the Airtel Zero Plan. In this plan, the internet companies would have to pay Airtel to allow users  to get free internet. On the surface, this may seem like a great idea and nothing wrong with it, but if you dig a little deeper you realise that there are now two sides :- Free and Paid sites. Read the full report on how Airtel Zero Plan would violate the freedom of net users here.

These violations of net neutrality isn’t a recent occurrence, but had started in 2007 - 2008 by an Internet Service Provider in the US named Comcast who intentionally slowed peer-to-peer communications. Thus, it was in 2008, 1st August that the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) upheld a complaint against Comcast, ruling that it had illegally inhibited users of its high speed internet service using file-sharing software.

But, recently in May 2014, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler released a plan that would have allowed companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to discriminate online and create pay-to-play fast lanes. This created a furore in the public causing an outcry, which also turned political. It was thanks to this outcry that Wheeler was forced to shelve his plan and on 4th Feb, 2015, he promised to get new net neutrality rules based on Title II of the Communications Act, giving Internet users the strongest protections possible.

The FCC approved this proposal on 26th Feb 2015, which was a victory for all the activists who fought for a decade for this cause.

Coming back to the issue of net neutrality in India, it is now up to us to save the internet. Join in the fight by sending your response to TRAI now. The deadline to respond is 24th April 2015. That’s today. So if you are reading this, do click on the link and send in your response as quickly as possible. The more voices there are, the better. Do your bit. I just did.

If you want to read more on this issue, here are some useful resources: 

  1. Save The Internet
  2. The Airtel Zero idea: Splitting India’s Internet into many Internets
  4. The White House - Net Neutrality

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