Net Neutrality: The battle of equal access for all content on Internet networks - is out in the open

Net Neutrality: The battle of equal access for all content on Internet networks – is out in the open

If you are one of India’s active netizens, then you must have heard about net neutrality which is a hotly debated topic in the current communications industry. The whole debate on net neutrality has created an uproar in the industry.

Internet was constructed around the idea of openness. Network neutrality is the idea that our cellular, cable, or phone internet connection should treat all websites and services the same. The principle behind net neutrality upholds neutrality for all types of data on the network. Internet service providers (ISPs) should provide access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking specific products or websites, voice or video.

The debate about net neutrality in India has so far been extremely scruffy and obscure. The fight between telecom operators and supporters of Net neutrality is getting uglier with each passing day. The combat on the principle of equal access for all content on Internet networks – is out in the open. The battle, at its heart, is about the pressure on telecom companies from over-the-top, or OTT, players which use telecom networks to offer services such as WhatsApp and Facebook, denting their revenues from voice and SMS. OTT refers to applications and services provided over the Internet.

The outset of internet freedom has been taken for granted as being commutative, and in the absence of clear distillation has been framed largely around the demands of ISPs, telecom operators and large and small internet services. So, in search of a new revenue stream, some telecom companies offered customers free access to content of entities that agreed to pay them for this special treatment. It is this preferential treatment that is raising the hackles of Internet users.

Without net neutrality, the internet as we know today won’t exist. Internet is considered as a decisive medium to follow the “common carriage principle”. The freedom of internet-penetration i.e. neutrality of access and accessibility, is also a vital link in the entire debate on the net neutrality in which an estimated 1 billion people are still at the dark-end of the digital divide. The Modi government’s ambitious Digital India initiative, “a program to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy” is projected to create a digitally advanced infrastructure where everyone would be able to access the internet.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) is proceeding towards the formulation of final views on policy or regulatory interventions, where required, on the subject of net neutrality. Some seven lakh petitions have already been sent to TRAI. Its recommendations will be examined by the Telecom Commission, the highest policy-making body in the Department of Telecom (DoT), along with suggestions from a Net neutrality committee within DoT, before the final policy on the matter is drafted.

For the past two decades that the Internet has been in existence, the concept of net neutrality was applied and accepted with little to no regulation from government globally. But, in India, the concept of net neutrality doesn’t exist legally. The current construct of net neutrality is beneficial to users in the short-term, but may make less sense once the Indian internet market becomes more saturated.

Though, it would be a prudent move to get things legally on paper, while Internet access in India is still at its infancy. Before concluding anything let’s think, where, in all of this, does the Indian netizen stand, for whom the internet is a formative space for access to knowledge, services and free speech, as well as the freedom and ease of doing online business? And what about the poor who still do not have access to internet facilities in India?

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