Net Neutrality: Very Essential to Make India Digital

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Net Neutrality: Very Essential to Make India Digital

There is a lot of debate going on Net Neutrality in India. It is one of the current hot topics and in all probability one or other session on WAT in IIMs or other B-schools may place this topic before the shortlisted candidates to write on it.


Net Neutrality is favoured by almost all the experts but it is also feared that certain issues may come up if not properly regulated. Majority of the experts and users advocate the Net Neutrality and want strict regulation on it while 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.


Net Neutrality: The 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

  • 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

Net Neutrality has many Advantages

  • 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 and future growth: Experts’ concerns

  • 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.

Nevertheless, everyone agrees on one point that there is a huge scarcity of power in India. We first need to resolve this problem; install solar panels in rural areas. This can be used to install routers. Information related to agriculture, irrigation, cattle rearing and organic farming can be transmitted online and telecasted.

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