More than 3 lakh people have already sent mails to India’s telecom regulator, Trai, to share their views on net neutrality via various web sites set up to spread awareness about Net neutrality.
Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has set up a committee of six members to submit a report by mid-May on that “on the whole gamut of net neutrality objective, its benefits, advantages and limitations including the regulatory and technical issues.”
In the last few days everyone has probably come across the phrase ‘net neutrality’ across Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere but isn’t quite sure what to make of it. To put it simply:
Would you pay an extra Rs 500 to get access to this article on nagpurtoday’in (or Firstpost for that matter)? Or even just Rs 50? What if you could access Facebook for free, but LinkedIn cost a little more? If people were charged extra to watch Vimeo videos, what are the chances you would upload your short film there instead of YouTube? It might be somewhat simplistic to reduce the entire net neutrality debate to such comparisons , but the point these situations illustrate is that without net neutrality, your internet is not going to be the same.
There is a real possibility that India’s telecom regulator is gearing up to change the relationship between the internet and its users. In a paper it put out last month, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India made it clear that it is all set to allow telecom companies to turn the internet from an all-you-can-eat buffet into an a la carte menu.
Who all are guilty of violating this principle? Facebook, google and now Airtel. Airtel made its first serious attempt to deviate from the concept of net neutrality in December last year. The company came out with a proposal that it would start charging consumers extra for Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calls made using apps like Skype and Viber.
An outcry followed from users. Airtel was slammed hard and bad on Twitter and Facebook. People took note of how unfair the proposal was, and the telecom company backed off and said that it won’t go ahead with the proposal – at least not immediately. A few months later, Airtel is again in the middle of the debate on net neutrality. But this time, it has come up with something that, at least on paper, seems less outlandish than its earlier proposal. The new plan has also been sugar-coated with “free”.
We are talking about Airtel Zero. This ‘scheme’ was in the news suddenly after Flipkart took a decision to withdraw from Airtel zero after it was given a thumps down by its users.
More and more net users are realizing this will definitely change the matrix for internet users completely and opposition to the idea is increasing.
Here is why it is so important to take a stand. Consider these eight points –
1) Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all traffic on their networks equally. That means users should be able to access all websites at the same speed and cost. No website should be given preferential treatment over another.
2) The idea is to ensure that the Internet remains a level playing field, not least because that allows innovation. If some websites are offered free or at faster speeds, the balance tips towards established players with deeper pockets. All data must be treated equally.
3) Flipkart has pulled out Airtel’s controversial Airtel Zero platform that plans to offer free access to certain apps and services after huge backlash on social media and other platforms. Earlier, net neutrality supporters voted against the Flipkart app on Google Play.
4) Late last month Trai invited from users and companies on how Internet apps and services should be regulated. Some observors fear that Trai may be going soft on this issue.
5) Airtel , Facebook, google etc. have deals and platforms that allows consumers free access to select apps and services with the cost of this data traffic being borne by the companies that have signed up. For example, if Flipkart signs up as an Airtel Zero partner, you will not be charged for data you use while accessing Flipkart, and Airtel will bill Flipkart for that session.In an interview with NDTV, an Airtel spokesperson spoke about “pragmatic” approach to net neutrality, adding, “In its pristine form, net neutrality does not exist anywhere in the world.
6) Facebook’s Internet.org operating on a similar principle, and various other apps have tied-up with telcos in the past to offer consumers free access to their services. Now there is news that Times of India and its other sister publications in Marathi and Hindi have offered to withdraw from internet.org with the condition that their competitors like Aaj Tak, BBC etc. also do the same.
7) Comedy group AIB on Saturday also got into the act, explaining the importance of net neutrality in India, and why users needs to support this cause. In less than two days, the video has got nearly a million views. It was shared so much on Facebook that it was mistaken for spam by the social network’s algorithms and removed, before being re-instated.
8) Earlier this year, the US FCC internet rules also stated that they would prevent broadband providers from separating online traffic into slow and fast lanes. The plan prohibits service providers from blocking lawful content or slowing one service, such as streaming video operator Netflix, to support a rival like Hulu.