Given that the numbers of trending hashtags on social media testify the magnitude of an issue, net neutrality in India has certainly become the subject of a raging dialogue. But as is the case with many trends, not everyone is sure about the core specifics of the issue. What exactly is net neutrality? How does it affect the average internet consumer? Why are so many organizations backing—or not backing - this passionate campaign?
Here’s everything you need to know about net neutrality in India, and how the issue has panned out thus far:
First things first: What is net neutrality all about?
The internet was established as an open platform where people from across the globe could share information and exchange ideas without an authoritarian shadow looming over. Net neutrality is a concept based on the premise that Internet service providers (ISP) allow users to access all applications and content without favoring any particular websites – as long as it is legal. Simply put, net neutrality is akin to making a phone call – you can use a telephone line to connect to any number, regardless of whether that number belongs to a hospital or a prison or any other establishment.
When a person logs on to a website, they are all entitled to access that website at a uniform speed – the ISP does not manipulate the web traffic that passes through its server. Thus, theoretically, the data rate of Amazon and YouTube is the same.
What happens to internet users if net neutrality is removed?
The removal of net neutrality affects internet users directly, but given the degree of influence the internet has on our lives today, it will also affect those who are not online. If there were no net neutrality, the internet, as we presently know it, will cease to exist. The power to manipulate internet traffic will rest in the hands of the ISPs. This means that an ISP can charge extra for say, a website like YouTube or Facebook or an application like Skype, which they believe consumes higher bandwidth. This, ultimately, will lead to the ISPs eating into the share of revenues that Skype or Facebook or YouTube may be making. So, without net neutrality, users will likely find themselves paying a premium for say, access to international websites or to visit an e-commerce site that’s not a part of their existing internet ‘package’.
What is India’s stance on net neutrality?
From the legal standpoint, there are no rules to enforce or advocate net neutrality in India. That is not to say that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India hasn’t ever touched upon the issue. In 2006, the agency had invited comments from industries bodies on the subject but it did not culminate into any net neutrality regulations being formed. However, despite the absence of a specific set of rules, Indian ISPs largely respect the principle of net neutrality.
Will net neutrality sustain in India?
Over the past three weeks, there has been a outpouring of support for net neutrality, after the TRAI invited a response from Indian internet users as to whether telecom operators, who also double up as ISPs in India, should be allowed to charge a premium for accessing certain websites or for different uses of the internet. The vociferous debate reached a crescendo when Airtel, one of the leading ISPs in India, introduced Airtel Zero – a platform where companies can pay Airtel to have users access their websites without paying any data charges. A number of companies that had initially signed up for Airtel Zero decided to pull out after realizing the conflict of interest that would inevitably crop up.
As things stand today, the TRAI has been flooded with responses from consumers who want net neutrality to stay, which will likely put telecom companies’ demands in the backseat – at least for now.