Net Neutrality: How it impacts the life in India; know the key facts

| 25 July 2016 0145 IST

Net Neutrality in India is one of the current hot topics and in all probability top MBA entrance exams in 2016 may ask one or two questions in their GK section on Net Neutrality
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Ruling prohibits any service provider from offering or charging discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content and also prohibits any agreement or contract which might have effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services

Lot of debate is going on Net Neutrality in India and on its merits and demerits. Net Neutrality in India is one of the current hot topics and in all probability top MBA entrance exams in 2016 may ask one or two questions in their GK section on Net Neutrality. Candidates who have recently appeared in writing ability tests at various IIMs and other B-schools have encountered this topic also.

There are arguments in favour and against the concept of Net Neutrality in India. While many advocate the Net Neutrality and want strict regulation on it, others find that it may check the expanded access in future and may not allow India to turn into a digital country which it aspires to grow into.

In this context, TRAI came out with the consultation paper on May 19, 2016 on Net Neutrality and invited the views and suggestions how mobile internet access can be provided to people for free. The last date to submit  the counter suggestions was July 14, 2016

Questions on GK or General Awareness form an important section with a weightage of 15 to 25% in almost all the national level MBA entrance tests including XAT, IIFT, SNAP. GK questions are also the source of discussion during GD, PI, WAT, Extempore topics for MBA admission in IIMs, FMS, MDI, SPJIMR, XLRI and other highly ranked institutes.

MBAUniverse.com has begun with a unique initiative of publishing a series of current GK topics to benefit the MBA aspirants to know more about the current national and global environment that become the source of GK questions. The next in the series is Net Neutrality.

What is Net Neutrality? Concept & background

-- As telephone became the part of society from the beginning of 20th Century, the internet started to take off in 1980s and 1990s.

-- Just like the telephone line where you can dial any number with any operator whether MTNL, BSNL or others and get connected to it without any hindrance, when a web user connects to a website or web service, he or she is supposed to get the same speed. Data rate for Youtube videos and Facebook photos is theoretically same. Users can access any legal website or web service without any interference from any internet service provider (ISP). This principle is known as net neutrality. An ISP does not control the traffic that passes its servers.

-- Since internet is built around the idea of openness, it allows people to connect and exchange information freely, if the information or service is not illegal.

-- Net neutrality implies that all Internet users be treated equally without discrimination on charges of any type to access any legal site by user, content, site, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication.

Net Neutrality in India: No strict regulation creating proble

-- There have already been a few violations of net neutrality principles by some Indian service providers.

-- In March 2015, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released a formal consultation paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services, seeking comments from the public. The consultation paper was criticised for being one sided and having confusing statements. It received condemnation from various politicians and Indian Internet users. The last date for submission of comment was 24 April 2015 and TRAI received over a million emails.

-- As of August 2015, there were no laws governing Net Neutrality in India. The government has called in for comments and suggestions regarding net neutrality as of 14 August, and offered people one day to post their views on the mygov forum. After this, the final decision regarding the debate was to be made.

-- The debate on network neutrality in India gathered public attention after Airtel, a Mobile phone service provider in India, announced in December 2014 additional charges for making voice calls from its network using apps like WhatsApp, Skype among others

Updates so far
In March 2015, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) released a formal consultation paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services, seeking comments from the public. The consultation paper was criticised for being one sided and having confusing statements. It was condemned by various politicians and internet users. By 24 April 2015, over a million emails had been sent to TRAI demanding net neutrality. The consultation period ended on January 7, 2016.

Violations of net neutrality have been common in India. Examples beyond Facebook's Internet include Aircel’s Wikopedia zero along with Aircel's free access to Facebook and WhatsApp;  Airtel's free access to Google, and Reliance’s free access to Twitter.

Facebook's Free Basics program is seen by activists as a net neutrality violation, based on its provision of free-of-cost access to dozens of sites, in collaboration with telecom operators. There were protests online and on ground against the Free Basics program. The Free Software Movement of India also held a protest in Hyderabad and other parts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh.

On 8th Feb 2016, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) banned differential pricing of data services. TRAI had multiple responses soliciting different opinions with respect to its consultation paper. Considering all the responses, the regulator decided to have an ex ante regulation instead of a case by case tariff investigation regime. According to the TRAI this decision was reached in order to give the industry participants the much needed certainty and in view of the high costs of regulation in terms of time and resources that will be required for investigating each case of tariff discrimination.

Ruling prohibits any service provider from offering or charging discriminatory tariffs for data services on the basis of content and also prohibits any agreement or contract which might have effect of discriminatory tariffs for data services or may assist the service provider in any manner to evade the regulation. It also specifies financial disincentives for contravention of regulation.

But the ruling does not prescribe a blanket ban on differential pricing and provides an exception in case of public emergency or for providing emergency services. Discriminatory tariffs are allowed in the case of an emergency.  According to TRAI this ruling shouldn't be considered the end of the net neutrality debate. The regulator has promised to keep a close view on the developments in the market and may undertake a review after two years or at an earlier date, as it may deem fit.

How does Net Neutrality make positive impact?

-- Net neutrality will enable the web users to connect freely to whatever website or service they want. ISPs do not bother with what kind of content is flowing from their servers. This has allowed the internet to grow into a truly global network and has allowed people to freely express themselves. For example, you can criticize your ISP on a blog post and the ISP will not restrict access to that post for its other subscribers even though the post may harm its business.

-- Net neutrality will also enable a level playing field on the internet. If you wish to start a website of yours, you don't need lot of money or connections. Just host your website and you are good to go. If your service is good, it will find favour with web users. Unlike the cable TV where you have to forge alliances with cable connection providers to make sure that your channel reaches viewers, on internet you don't have to talk to ISPs to put your website online.

-- Top examples are the creations of Google, Facebook, Twitter and many other services. All had very humble beginnings. They started as a basic websites with modest resources. But they succeeded because net neutrality allowed web users to access these websites in an easy and unhindered way.

-- In case there is no net neutrality, Internet Service Providers will have the power as well as would like to regulate internet traffic the way they like to derive extra benefit from it. For example, several ISPs believe that they should be allowed to charge companies for services like YouTube and Netflix because these services consume more bandwidth compared to a normal website. These ISPs in fact, want a share in the money that YouTube or Netflix make.

-- Internet free access that we have today will not exist without net neutrality. Instead of free access, there could be "package plans" for consumers. For example, if you pay Rs 600, you will only be able to access websites based in India. To access international websites, you may have to pay much more. There may be different connection speed for different type of content, depending on how much you are paying for the service and what "add-on package" you have bought

-- No innovation and creativity on the web would be seen without net neturality. It is possible that ISPs may charge web companies to enable faster access to their websites. The website may begin opening faster or slower according to the payment plan. It implies that bigger players like Google will be able to pay more to make access to Youtube faster for web users but a startup that wants to create a different and better video hosting site may not be able to do that.

-- We will have to pay more to ISPs without net neutrality to get a faster access. Instead of an open and free internet, we are likely to get a web that has silos in it.

Net Neutrality to go against future growth

-- Expanding Internet access is the top priority for India. This is the reason that most of the big announcements during Modi’s visit to Silicon Valley were in this domain - not just Facebook, but also public commitments made by Microsoft and Google to connect villages and railway stations. It will be possible by shifting costs to content providers who enter into exclusive contracts with data providers.

-- Broadband infrastructure is weak in India. Spectrum is expensive. Power is still in short supply. Digital access is now linked to the basics like Subsidies and rations, identification, financial inclusion and political participation. Such an arrangement could expand internet use rapidly in a country where some 80 per cent of the population does not have access, benefiting crores of people.

-- Many believe that net neutrality is an elite idea like Zuckerberg’s view that “It’s not an equal internet if the majority of people can’t participate.”

-- There is a belief that net neutrality would require unnecessary government intervention, a forcible levelling of the playing field. The Government should not prevent Facebook, Reliance and certain websites from entering into exclusive arrangements, particularly if it helps to expand access and deflect costs from consumers.

-- With the rise of incomes, consumers may gradually opt for data plans that give them greater access, foregoing more restrictive but free data services.

GK questions emerging from text

-Name the authority that controls Mobile & Internet services in India?

-Who heads the ministry responsible to control the mobile and internet services

-Expand the following: OTT; TRAI; ISP

-Which Mobile service provider and which of its activity began the debate on the Net Neutrality in India?

-The objective of Net Neutrality policy is to discriminate among different types of Mobile internet access services? True/false

-If the Net Neutrality in its present form is implemented, it will offer free/paid internet service on Mobile?

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