Net Neutrality in India
. At first sight, the internet appears to be an enormous success. The people involved on the internet tend, by nature, to be enthusiasts and there is much to be enthusiastic about. More than a quarter of the world’s population is online today and levels of usage continue to grow strongly around the world. Most of the today’s growth is being extended by mobile devices into parts of the world where fixed infrastructure is less developed. Usage is being driven by richer services, better devices, and the continuous migration of tasks and activities from the physical to the digital world. People search for things, learn, watch videos, listen music, share the activities in their life and have come a lot closer.

The World has shrunk since the inception of the Internet some 3 decades ago. The success of the Internet in fostering innovation, access to knowledge and freedom of speech is in large part due to the principle of net neutrality in India, the idea that internet service providers give their customers equal access to all lawful websites and services on the internet, without giving priority to any website over another.

Net Neutrality : Complete Analysis


Net Neutrality

Net neutrality means, in plain English, that internet service providers can’t censor stuff and can’t give preferential treatment (e.g., faster data speeds) to some stuff over other stuff. Without it, the power of governments and large companies to control what people see online, already considerable, would grow even stronger. In other words, net neutrality in India gives you complete freedom of the Internet and allows you to surf whatever website you want, use whatever application you what without any change of data speed, irrespective of the Intention of the Telecom Carrier.

What is the big deal about Net Neutrality

As already told, Net Neutrality gives you complete freedom to access any online content without change of data speed or extra surfing charges. In case, we don’t have net neutrality in our Surfing, our search would be restricted to websites or apps which give the Telecoms Operators extra share for their ”Over the Top” services like Internet voice calling, photo sharing facilities and enjoy special preferences over other apps or websites, and the genuine websites would be far away from our reach. For example, in Net Neutrality in India, the controversial ”Airtel Zero” plan introduces zero rating plans which present a series of websites and apps which can be accessed for free by the user and as such if you want to visit YouTube.com, the telecom Operator may switch down the data speed to low level and the user may be forced to visit wynk.com, which is the very own online video playing service of Airtel.

Net Neutrality in India

While we’re talking about net neutrality, it’s useful to remember that only a tiny number of Indians have access to the internet. Even though India is one of the fastest growing economies globally, it has a lot of catching up to do on the technology front. A mere 15% of Indians use the internet at all, according to a new report (pdf) by the Switzerland-based World Economic Forum (WEF). And only 33% of the population own mobile phones. As of October 2014, India had 278 million internet users according to the Internet and Mobile Association of India.

Owing to a remarkably successful outcome of Internet.org, a facebook initiative, one of the Indian Telcom operator, the Bharti airtel come up with another similar plan known as the ”Airtel Zero” plan. Under this plan, the users will be provided access to selected websites or apps for free, and the access charge will be formally collected by the website owner or the APPMAKER. This seems really exciting as for the first time the users will be freed from the internet data usage charges.

However, having a close look at this plan explains all the complexities involved.With the advent of the so-called ”Over the Top” services of many major websites like Facebook, Whatsapp, Skype which include online Phone calls, Video calls, Photo sharing, the conventional income source (phone call), of the telecom companies have reduced. Though there is a significant increase in the consumption of internet data plans as well as the data charges. Since these major websites enjoy the full profits of their over the top services these telecoms are barred from having their share of profits which could be a significant amount of their source of income. In order to overcome this, telcos such as Reliance and Bharti Airtel have come up with this non-conventional plans which defy Internet Neutrality. The case is still under consideration and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has invited recommendations till 24th of April.

Effect of Net Neutrality in India

If the Telecoms are allowed to violate the net neutrality norms, then the things may go out of control. Since the past few years, Internet has proved to be a major birthplace for many start-ups from those of Facebook to Flipkart. Going as per the Telcos, We may encounter a situation in which the Users have easy access to major players and the new start ups may be struggling to gather visitors. This, thus gives birth to censorship of Internet which is very harmful to our idea of free society and internet! So, Net Neutrality in India is not a great thing.

The other Side of the Coin

Surprisingly, Airtel which has come under flak on two occasions in last four months for alleged violation of net neutrality norms, too, has pledged its support for net neutrality! “Airtel fully supports the concept of net neutrality. There have been some misconceptions about our toll-free data platform Airtel Zero. It is a not a tariff proposition but is an open marketing platform that allows any application or content provider to offer their service on a toll-free basis to their customers who are on our network”; The statement made by Flipkart regarding their decision not to offer toll-free data service to their customers is consistent with our stand that Airtel Zero is not a tariff proposition. It is merely an open platform for content providers to provide toll-free data services,” Airtel said. Without spelling out the future of Airtel Zero, it said, The platform remains open to all companies who want to offer these toll-free data services to their customers on a completely non-discriminatory basis. Over 150 start-ups have already expressed willingness to come on board Airtel Zero.

Pranesh Prakash, Policy Director, Centre for Internet and Society, said, “The need for net neutrality in India is very real and urgent. There are many practices that telecom companies are trying to engage in, such as blocking of WhatsApp to force customers to pay more money for it, which ought not to be allowed”. On Airtel Zero plan, he said, “We should clearly separate out the issue of “zero rating” from that of “net neutrality“. “Only anti-competitive instances of zero-rating – for instance, Airtel offering its own Hike service for free, or Airtel entering into an exclusive deal with Flipkart for zero-rating its app are problems. Competitive zero-rating, with regulatory safeguards to ensure a fair and efficient marketplace should be allowed, just as we allow free TV channels and allow toll-free numbers. Banning is akin to a Brahm Astra in a regulator’s arsenal: it should not be used lightly” Mr. Prakash said.

Final Words

Although, the TRAI has issued a notice regarding the suggestions and recommendations on this issue, it had released a 100+ pages sheet comprising of nearly more than 10 questions, the answers to whose is to be mailed to the TRAI. In order to make the appeal easier, few volunteers of the save the internet campaign have come forward and have started an awareness campaign among the masses and majorly among the none-English speaking netizens of India. For support Please log on to www.savtheinternet.in or www.netneutrality.in and play your role in assuring the freedom of Internet.

Written by Kamal Thakur