The issue about telecom companies implementing licenses for internet usage for apps and websites in India, has already stirred up quite a commotion on social media platforms. This is a genuine cause of concern because without the presence of “net neutrality”, we could be made to suffer at the hands of corporate magnates whose only intention is to rob us of every possible penny.
What is Net Neutrality?
Net neutrality is the underlying principle for a fair internet service provision scenario where telecom operators need to provide an unfiltered and unrestricted service to the customers without restricting access or limiting speeds in order to drive users to personally favourable channels. As of now, no established guidelines exist for implementing net neutrality in India. TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) is yet to form proper guidelines which would regulate ensure the upholding of net neutrality in the country.
The Unified Access Service license by TRAI does not enforce net neutrality but it does promote its implementation by providing fair access to all. If you were to evaluate the Information Technology Act, 2000, then it would become evident that there are no guidelines in place which prohibit telecom companies and ISPs from boosting their service in order to pursue their business interests. Both of these aspects are contradictory in nature and have created a seemingly unstable environment where things could go out of hand if left unchecked.
Net neutrality has been the key to success for popular platforms like Facebook, Twitter and other services which started as basic websites and went on to become titans of the digital world. All of this was possible only due to unhindered and easy access provided to these sites enabled by net neutrality. The current dynamics in India indicate that telecom companies and ISPs are moving in the direction of coming up with a licensing scheme where they could manipulate internet speeds and access to divert users to their services by offering “better services”.
How the Absence of Net Neutrality Will Affect the Digital Domain?
If net neutrality were to be completely absent from the scenario, then ISPs would have the power to shape internet traffic for driving additional benefits and satisfying their personal vested interests. The ISPs basically want to cash in on the opportunities presented by profit prospects of YouTube and the likes. Free-to-use services like YouTube, Netlix, and Facebook usually consume more bandwidth than regular websites / apps. Higher consumption could be leveraged to earn greater revenue from these immensely profitable prospects.
Speculative “Data Packages” in the Absence of Net Neutrality (Source: Facebook)
While the earning from these sources would not be direct in nature, it would indicate an indirect approach where access and speeds would be manipulated to divert users to preferred internet service providers. The complete elimination of net neutrality would result in the creation of “package plans” wherein everything would be chargeable. For getting better services, you might have to shell out more money or subscribe to “content-specific” plans to enjoy unhindered and convenient usage.
An image depicting a possible “harsh reality” in the absence of net neutrality (Source: wordstream)
It is also possible that innovation would receive a slow death if net neutrality were completely ruled out of the equation. With such high charges and costs being levied for minor activities, it would become next to impossible for start-ups or small companies to even think about taking an initiative in the online domain. The big shots, especially those who have already gained significant prominence, would be able to pay off ISPs in order to buy higher speeds and access for their sites / services. If this happens, then don’t expect to see any new or better platforms as the restrictions would prevent things from being implemented on a large scale.
Current State of Net Neutrality in India
Like most regulatory bodies in India, TRAI had initiated the gathering of feedback and comments on net neutrality from key stakeholders and industry bodies, but to no avail. As of now, nothing has been done towards implementing anything remotely similar to the concept of net neutrality. However, there have been only a few cases of the breach of net neutrality principles in India. Almost all of the ISPs here adhere to fair practices.
Which is better? The image on the right or the one on the left? (Source: Facebook)
Just because the number of cases of the breach of net neutrality have been less in number, it is not safe to take things for granted. The ISPs still have the power to manipulate the online dimension in the absence of a stringent policy framework. The most relevant example of this scenario is the re-release of 3G plans by Airtel. Apparently the company brought back its 3G services after obtaining the permission for using the spectrum, but not without adding its own evil twist to it. In December, 2014, Airtel had changed the terms of service for both its 2G and 3G offerings and excluded VOID from the included services in the data packs.
According to NDTV’s report on net neutrality, a standard data charge of ₹0.04 per 10 KB for 3G service and ₹0.10 per 10 KB (more than ₹10,000.00 for 1GB) for 2G service was levied on VoIP data. Now that the company had encashed upon the need for VOIP calls, Airtel announced a separate pack for all VOIP based apps with a common package having 75 MB usage (valid for 28 days). The cost of this package was INR 75. So it turns out that Airtel kept INR 1 / 1MB as the rate for using its services for VOIP.
The official statements released by the company mentioned, “Our Customers can enjoy a superior VoIP calling experience on Airtel’s network by choosing from a range of new VoIP specific data packs that will soon be launched. The Rs 75 package will allow customers to make between 200 and 250 minutes of calling. Affordable VoIP plans will also be launched for postpaid customers. There would be no other charges in respective of VoIP calls.”
The statement clearly reveals the intentions of Airtel and the way in which it attempted to gain profits by exploiting the needs of the people, especially business organizations, that depended on the efficacy of VOIP services for establishing unhindered communication with clients and global taskforces. It was only with the use of social media postings (negative postings shared by the people, especially the youth), signed petitions to TRAI and overall campaigning against the unfair charges, that Airtel was compelled to recall its “packages” from the market.
On 27 March 2015, TRAI released a consultation paper on over-the-top services (OTT) and net neutrality , where it was found that the OTT services were making use of infrastructure that was created by the telecom companies to compete with related products and services in the market. It was also concluded that the OTT services could compete with brick-and-mortar establishments such as banking institutions and retail outlets. The outcomes of the report highlighted the fact that popular sites such as Google, Yahoo, MySpace, YouTube, Facebook, Windows Live and eBay do not own any network infrastructure and due to this, they are compelled to make use of the existing facilities in order to maintain their services in the target region.
Want to Make a Difference! Then Sign the Petition Before 24th April
The online petition to implement net neutrality in India. (Source: Change.org)
You are not just a regular user. You have the power to make a difference. If you choose to stay quiet, then be prepared to bear the brunt of increased prices and an open monopoly of ISPs in India. Don’t wait for someone to take an initiative. Be the one to bring that change.
Here is how you can contribute towards achieving net neutrality in India.
- Sign the online petition currently being spearheaded by people just like you. Visit change.org petition and sign up to show your support for the cause.
- You can send emails to email@example.com and voice your opinion on the problems that the absence of net neutrality could bring. Be as direct and clear as you want and don’t shy away from stating strong reasons for dissuading the onset of licensing schemes by telcos in India.
- Tweet to @rsprasad @PMOIndia and show your support for rallying in favour of net neutrality in the country.
Remember, you involvement and support needs to be shown before 24th April (the D-Day). If you do not speak up now, then you could be paving the way for a world of problems for yourself. The USA had its own strife with net neutrality, but the unified support of the people resulted in the establishment of a fair network in the country. If the US can achieve it, so can we! It’s now or never. Let’s show these Bureaucrats that we won’t succumb to their selfish pursuits!
(Source: Save The Internet)
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