Setting Apart Connectivity from Plunder

Ankit Verma

The debate gained national impulse when telecom regulator TRAI came out with a consultation paper inviting user comments on the subject. In reply to this over 10 lakh emails were sent to the authority through the website savetheinternet.in. Now lets understand something about net neutrality.

What is Net Neutrality?

In simple terms, it means that the Internet service providers must treat all content on the Internet equally and all sites must be equally accessible. Those encouraging net neutrality believe all sorts of data is equal and therefore should not be discriminated on the basis of content, site or user. This has been the default mode since Internet started. That means companies like Airtel should not block or slow down access to any website or content on the Web – for instance, to benefit their own services over those of competitors.

What is Zero – Rating?

We know that Airtel came up with a new service called Airtel Zero where it will offer customers free access to certain apps and services, with cost of this data traffic being paid by the partner. For example, if Flipkart signs up as an Airtel Zero partner, you will not be charged for data you use while accessing Flipkart, and Airtel will bill Flipkart for that session.

Due to so many debates on this issue e-commerce major Flipkart pulled out of talks on joining Airtel Zero. Flipkart asserted, ‘it has always believed in the concept of Net Neutrality’. The Flipkart pullout has raised questions regarding this issue.

Are Flipkart people so incognizant not to know the consequences of a platform such as Airtel Zero for the overall Internet Ecosystem?

How all of a sudden they woke up to reiterate their support for Net Neutrality?

These questions remain unanswered, but the pull out from talks with Airtel appears to have been necessitated by strong adverse reaction from netizens across the country. Looking from this angle, Flipkart’s action has given a huge boost to protagonists of Net Neutrality. It’s a wake up call for Airtel and telcos to rework their strategies. The telcos need to look at innovative ways of offering value added services to boost their revenues within the framework of Net Neutrality.

Is this issue in India alone?

No. The Federal Communications Commission just recently voted for what is seen as strong Net Neutrality rules. This is to ensure Internet service providers neither block, regulate, traffic nor give access to the content for extra charges. Europe is trying to correct a 2013 proposal for Net Neutrality, in which privileged access was allowed to specialized services. This is vague and threatened Net Neutrality. Chile last year banned zero rating schemes.

In the current scenario, where we fight for ‘Equality’ and ‘Empowerment’ everyday we have been provided with several laws that ensure that our rights to be treated equally are not violated but in this cyber age we do not have any law where Net Neutrality as a concept is defined. But we must infer that it is directly connected to the Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which ensure the Right to Life. Internet in the past few years has become the daily necessity for everyone, from Education to Entertainment. It has been helping people and any plan of the Internet Service Providers (ISP) curtailing Net Neutrality would also pull back the dream of Digital India.

Writer is a Delhi based Lawyer and a Legal Commentator.

(Published in The Lucknow Observer, Volume 2 Issue 14, Dated 05 May 2015)

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