In defence of Net Neutrality

Net neutrality stipulates that all web-based services or websites have to be treated equally by the network operators i.e., telecom companies. What these companies are proposing is to offer either a limited Internet consisting of only a few services and websites pretending it is the whole Internet; or speed up or slow down the sites and services, based on who pays them and how much

It is for the first time since the consultation process on the issue of net neutrality has been initiated by Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) that more than a million Indians have given their responses, though there are 10 more days for the last date to send the responses. This attempt to violate net neutrality and pave the way for the ‘Enclosure of the Internet’ is being rejected by all sections of the society, barring the telcos and a section of the Internet companies.

Though the penetration of the Internet is relatively low in India, it would not be an overstatement to state that the all those educated and are being educated have an access to the Internet. The Internet has become a very important component of people’s lives, serving as a source of knowledge, a means of communication, and as the vehicle for all forms of media. It is this dense penetration amongst the current generation that led to to the demand to declare the Internet as a public utility and hence the opposition to violations of net neutrality.

Net neutrality stipulates that all web-based services or websites have to be treated equally by the network operators i.e.,  telecom companies. What these companies are proposing is to offer either a limited Internet consisting of only a few services and websites pretending it is the whole Internet; or speed up or slow down the sites and services, based on who pays them and how much.

Neutrality over the Internet has facilitated democratic collaboration of technology, content, communication and advanced innovations. The expansion of Internet has been paved by a Free Software Movement which sprang up through collaboration of software development through the neutral Internet. It has allowed anybody to put up a website or offer a service. The violation of net neutrality defeats such advances.

A number of telecom companies, such as Airtel and Reliance, along with some internet companies, are offering such “special packages.” This would entail the restriction of access to the websites which don't pay these telcos or reach an agreement with them. They bundle only a few websites and applications with their services, pretending that this limited Internet is the whole Internet. Such cartels between the telecom companies and a few global Internet monopolies will lead to further concentration of economic power on the Internet. It will mean marginalising innovations and most of the progressive media, forcing them onto the platform of global Internet monopolies.

This would also pave the way for the encroachment of the democratic space over the Internet. We are all quite aware of how a certain telcos were filtering out any news pertaining the strike of Jet Airline pilots strike. These acts just mean the censorship of the entire Internet by telcos. This has caught the ire of the young minds and hence is the resistance to these draconian proposals.

Globally communities are engaged in a fight against this unholy nexus of telecom and Internet companies to fence in the Internet. The Competition Commission in India has begun investigations against telecom companies for violating net neutrality. But the telecom regulator, TRAI, has put out a consultation document that blatantly supports telecom companies in tying up with major Internet companies to violate net neutrality. 

The ignited minds and the current generation are all out using all means of social medium and the democratic space on the Internet to fight against TRAI's proposals in the interest of telcos. These are the new freedom struggles that are emerging in the digital millennium, fighting against all encroachments of public and democratic spaces.

-  Kiran Chandra

This article was first published in The HansIndia on 18-04-2015