The burning question that hit the US in 2014 has found its way all the way across the globe to India. And even before there came a proactive debate on the topic, companies like Facebook jumped into the scene contorting the question and taking it to even higher levels of chaos.
What is net neutrality? Now before we pick sides and start sending petitions, let’s get a clear perspective on net neutrality. As per common definition, net neutrality is the extended concept of a common carrier. What this means is that the carrier has no right to discriminate nor block/slow down any content or traffic that may use it as a channel. The internet’s founding ideology is that it should be open and equally accessible to all irrespective of diversity on multiple factors. Net neutrality is thus a concept that naturally evolved as an extension of these basic principles.
Why all the fuss now? As on countless occasions before, we in India realized the inadequacy of laws to govern net neutrality in India only when it had been violated. ISPs like Airtel started charging more for VoIP calls from its network and that’s when the disparity hit us. And then came the inquiry of the TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India ) into the matter and the picking of sides and the race to send out petitions.
In a country with a truly poor (20 percent) internet penetration, the more significant question would have been ‘how to get the internet to the millions who still lie disconnected digitally to the rest of the world’. But instead, we argued on how this network which still remains a hypothetical entity to millions in the country should be if it were ever to become reality. In a world that is governed by money, everything is easier done as you out in more money. The internet stood in stark contrast to this in that it provided equal opportunity to everyone; be it a fledgling start-up or a multi-billion dollar corporate. The net neutrality question strikes at the root of this equality as ISPs decided to invoke this disparity into the digital realm. The US which was caught up in a similar dilemma in 2014 included took a bold step in the right direction to include the internet service as an information service rather than a telecommunication service, thus safeguarding net neutrality.
With companies such as Facebook contorting the question of net neutrality and bringing in the FreeBasics platform for internet connectivity, the common man is as confused as ever. The platform which supposedly provides a pittance as free internet access to millions is nothing but a guided campaign against neutrality. To tap into the aspirations of the common man by providing them a glance of the internet and luring them into use added services as subscribed bundles are what Facebook has in mind.
What the Government or the TRAI can do is to provide free or subsidized neutral internet access to the millions who are still digitally disconnected. Like in the US, the Government should pledge its responsibility towards providing free and open internet to the people of the country
Why is Net Neutrality so important? From a personal perspective, all of us running Teezonic, we learned everything we know from the internet, because of the free open nature of the internet. We are able to publicize and provide our services to others only because of this. As is the case with thousands of start-ups around the world, it is the free and unrestricted access to information that helped us set up this dream of ours, we, therefore, stand in solidarity with the proponents of Net Neutrality as it is our duty and our privilege
Written by: Jonath Thomas