What is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is, in fact, a fancy term. For a layman in terms of technical aspects, it will appear as a technical jargon - but it is a simple term. It is a guiding principle which instructs ISPs and the government to treat all data on Internet equally, not charging differentially irrespective of user content, site, application, type of equipment used or mode of communication.
Anyone used to using data packs - either prepaid or postpaid - will definitely ask "Isn't it what we have been getting now?". Yes, of course - but, with what telecom operators, thinking their revenue is being affected, are coming up with plans that go against this underlying principle. And that is exactly the reason for the current hullabaloo in the name of net Neutrality.
What are the benefits of Net Neutrality?
With the ideal of Net Neutrality, the consumers get to access any kind of data regardless of the site without any restriction based on site, application, content, equipment or any aspect . All the data is equal, and as such once we get a data pack - we should be able to access anything on the Internet. A user will benefit from the fact that he will be in a position to access any data without having to pay extra amount except the data pack he has subscribed to. No premium models should be allowed.
What do Telecom Players want?
The lobbying against the concept of Net Neutrality began surfacing by around 2006, when TRAI sensed the possibility of discrimination of competing applications and providers by private service providers and came up with a consultation paper to seek opinions on regulating such practices. Telecom operators like AirTel and Vodafone began arguing that huge Internet firms like Facebook and Google should share revenue with service providers because telecom companies spend on infrastructure while these companies make huge profits. In 2014, AirTel argued that messaging apps like WhatsApp and Skype should be regulated. TRAI rejected the demand of revenue share from these apps. In December 2014, AirTel came up with revised data plans wherein services like Skype were excluded. If you want to use these messaging apps, you had to subscribe to special packs apart from the regular plan. TRAI was in no way taking any measures to curb this tendency. TRAI stated that AirTel cannot be held responsible for violating Net Neutrality because there is no law to enforce the guideline. AirTel faced a lot of criticism on social media platforms and had to retract from this plan eventually.
In February, 2015 - Facebook came up with Internet.org in association with Reliance Communications. It had a group of 38 websites which could be accessed for free via an app. In April, 2015 - AirTel came up with a similar concept AirTel Zero which needed the apps to sign up with the service and AirTel would provide access to the apps for free to its customers. Even this plan drew flak from netizens. Flipkart received huge negative response from its users for joining a platform that went against the concept of Net Neutrality. Flipkart pulled out from AirTel Zero. Clear trip, Times Group, NewsHunt and NDTV pulled out from Internet.org to support Net Neutrality. With strong protests against anti net Neutrality policies by Telecom service providers, TRAI has initiated a consultation process.
What does the law say?
There are no laws in India enforcing Net Neutrality. The Unified Access Service License guidelines by TRAI promotes Net Neutrality, but it does not enforce it. Even the IT Act, 2000 does not prohibit telecom providers from using anti Net Neutrality means to promote their own business interests.
When AirTel came up with the differential plan for messaging apps TRAI chairman confessed that what AirTel did was against Net Neutrality, but not illegal as India has no law to enforce Net Neutrality.
What's in store next?
The debate on Net Neutrality has begun after the move by AirTel in December , 2014 of excluding Skype from its data pack. After wide spread protests against the move, TRAI has released a consultation paper in March, 2015 seeking comments from public. The paper has been criticised for being lopsided. By 24th April, 2015, more than a million emails have been sent to TRAI.
Let us just hope TRAI comes up with something positive for the consumers. This will, in fact, give a level playing field to.all the stakeholders including the startups.
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Timmappa Kamat is a technology enthusiast. He has an active interest in newer technological developments. He is fond of new gizmos & gadgets. He loves to share his knowledge through tech-savvy websites as a freelancer. A Mechanical Engineer by profession, he is equally interested in blogging, with his own blog. He wants to carve a name for himself in blogging arena one day! If you need any clarifications about his articles,please respond here below or get in touch with him through his profile.
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TRAI should make the Unified Access Service Licence mandatory for all ISPs, and any violations should be penalized or the licence cancelled. Only such a strict rule will ensure the users are free to use and surf the net according to their choices and ISPs will not stop some web sites.
I absolutely agree with your points, Bhasker. But the problem with this issue is that India has no law to enforce Net Neutrality. The Unified Access Licence actually promotes the concept of Net Neutrality in principle, but there are no rules specified in the laws to authorise TRAI to enforce this concept. That exactly is the tragedy.
TRAI has come up with the consultation paper, but it seems they have bogged down to the pressure of the telecom player's lobby. Now with the wide spread protests against the anti net Neutrality moves by the telecom firms, let us just hope to see good days ahead for us - the regular Internet users.