What is Net Neutrality all about?
When we log onto the Internet, we take a lot for granted. We assume we will be able to browse any website we want, whenever we want, as many times as we want, at the fastest speed, whether it’s a corporate or a mom-and-pop site. We assume that we can use any service we like – watching online videos, listening to songs or podcasts, sending instant messages – anytime we choose. What makes all these assumptions possible is Net Neutrality.
Telecom operators/ISPs are access services providers, and can control either how much you access, what you access, how fast you access and how much you pay to access content and services on the Internet.
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs/Telcos) and government should treat all data on the Internet equally, should give their customers equal access to all lawful websites and services on the internet, without giving priority to any website over another.
This means Net Neutrality is about:
• All sites must be equally accessible
• No telecom-style licensing of Internet companies
• No speeding up of specific websites
• No “zero rating” or making some sites free over others.
Why there is Sudden Buzz and debates about Net Neutrality in India
• Telecom companies have lobbied to TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) and are trying to bring regulations into the usage of Internet, putting at stake our freedom to choose & privacy.
• If this happens in India, our ISPs will decide which website or app we will be given access to and how much we’ll have to pay for accessing each website/app.
• If you are an app publisher or a website owner, you’ll have to pay to each ISP to make your app/website visible to the people on their network.
For Ex: In an Airtel network, Airtel may ‘charge’ us to use WhatsApp while Hike Messenger will be free to use since Hike is an Airtel product.
With the rise of wireless broadband, the debate intensified and created major differences in perspectives. While the debate is going on globally, India’s TRAI has sought recommendations (for the first time from the general public, and not just the industry) by circulating a consultation paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services, seeking comments from the public. The buzz about Net Neutrality increased when Airtel, India’s leading telecom carrier, launched “Airtel Zero”, a platform designed for partnering with various internet-based companies in order to generate revenues. There has been significant furore in the public domain and a campaign against Airtel Zero, leading to the company’s withdrawal of the program.
One of the main reasons the Internet has been so successful is that people have generally been able to use it according to their wish. It’s important for access to knowledge, services and free speech, as well as freedom and ease of doing business online, for this access to be neutral. Internet service providers (ISPs) can’t restrict the best access or pick winners and losers in the online marketplace for services and ideas. The worst thing policy makers could do to the network would be to allow telecom companies to mess with that. Rather, they should focus on what it will take to make broadband accessible for everyone.