Article was originally published on ED in Feb 2015. Republishing for our readers again.
In December 2014, Bharti Airtel, India’a largest telecom operator tried to pull off a scheme that would have shaken up the Indian Internet as we know it : 243 million users (internet stats by 2014) would have had to shell out extra money (by four times to be specific) every time they made Voice calls over the Internet (VoIP) while using facilities such as Skype and Viber.(Rs. 0.37/minute = Rs. 75 for 75 MB)
Social media exploded with it’s usual panache as people expressed their extreme displeasure on the subject. A petition protesting the move even made it to Change.org (yours truly is a signatory). They also agreed to withdraw after making sure the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India held a consultation on the same (more on that below).
With the Telecom and Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) floating a consultation paper (and boy, is it a 118 page long doozy) on the regulatory framework of various aspects of the Internet in India, it is extremely important, dear reader, that you understand what the hullaballoo about net neutrality is about.
WAIT, WHAT ?
The official definition for net neutrality goes something like this – ‘ Net neutrality is the principle that service providers will treat all data on the internet equally and not impose differential pricing or discriminate among users, content sites, platforms and apps .’ Geddit ? Basically, all it’s saying is that when you go on the Internet, it doesn’t matter whether you’re accessing www.youtube.com or www.funnycatvidoes.net. ISPs are obligated to provide you with :
- Equal accessibility to all websites
- Cost of accessing websites to be the same
- Sites to be accessible at the same speed.
So not only do you have to pay more, the fledgling entrepreneur trying to set up www.isleepalot.com (this is an unused domain, by the way) will also be paying more to get his/her content across to you.
USA : THE LAND OF THE BRAVE, THE FREE AND CRONY CAPITALISTS
The fight for a free Internet has heated up in America. And it’s because the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) signaled in January 2014 that it could impose new laws that gives Internet Service Providers the right to charge content providers (the websites you access) to provide quicker access to customers.
This is possible because Internet Service Providers(ISPs) in the USA, like in the rest of the world, are
- extremely few in number and have thus
- formed something of a monopoly.
So they’ve pooled together their resources in order to lobby the FCC for measures that will help them jack up their profits, curtail content that portrays them in a bad light and block competitors.
Lobbyists of the ISPs in question have tried to defend this move by claiming that there would be no ‘fast lane’ and ‘slow lane’ for web traffic, rather something along the lines of a ‘fast lane’ and ‘faster lane’.
Clearly the supporters of the free Internet were not amused and the folks at Fight for the Future have launched an all out, battle for the freedom of the Internet . Unsurprisingly, even Internet biggies such as Netflix and Facebook have joined the fight. Guess everybody wants to keep their profits.
What happens next ? The vote determining the future of net neutrality in the USA took place on 26th February…..and the little people won. The FCC has officially declared the Internet a public good in the USA, which basically means that service providers cannot block content or regulate it as per their convenience.
THE INDIA STORY
Which brings us to India. The author hopes that unfortunate practice of aping certain Western traditions mindlessly will not lead to something along the lines of the ghamsan yudh that happened in the USA.
The Airtel story differs slightly from the US one, as in our case, the distinction was between two types of Internet services. But the fact remains that the concept of net neutrality needs a lot more clarity in India.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority Of India (TRAI) has decided to float a paper to finally address this issue. They’ve also made it clear that since our country has its own “socio-economic systems, the terms within which this issue is to be defined is to be uniquely designed.” Well then kind sirs, this blogger requests that you not become slaves to corporate propaganda.
- Airtel’s One-Touch-Internet, which provides free access to 12 selected webites (Facebook, YouTube, IndiaToday to name a few) is definitely working around the current loopholes in the framework.
- Similarly, for Idea and Aircel users, Facebook usage is not taken into account while calculating the data limit.
- Before you riot in front of the Airtel office for trying to force the VoIP plan on you, fun fact, Vodafone and Idea were considering it too. They stopped only after seeing the public backlash.
- If the TRAI doesn’t come up with a neutral consultation, corporates can even start pushing for other services such as Instant Messaging (IM), Cloud Services etc being considered as ‘payable’.
- Airtel Zero. Airtel’s new scheme is as distanced from net neutrality as Rahul Gandhi is from a reality check. Flipkart recently avoided a public smackdown by beating a retreat from the same.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE ?
We’re running on an extreme time crunch, for one. To whomsoever is reading this, we have only till the 24th of April to get our message across to the bullies. And believe me, we’ve done a LOT.
To those who still have to send an email to TRAI at email@example.com and feel too lazy to type a message, just go to www.savetheinternet.in and click on the ‘Respond to TRAI now’ button. You get a customized message and you just need to hit ‘Send’. For those who want to go the extra mile and feel like taking a crack at that extremely long paper, go ahead. Just remember to do your bit and Fight for a Free Internet.