India and Net Neutrality
India has a huge internet market with over 243 million users, with more than 200 million of them operating the same on mobiles. Net Neutrality means that all traffic on internet is treated as equal by the service providers and there is no special charge for any specific service or website depending on content, destination or source. Internet is an open platform and must continue to remain so to stir innovation and economic growth. Net neutrality should be woven into the basic fabric of internet and it cannot work to the advantage of some sections and disadvantage of others. The term net neutrality was coined by Columbia law professor Tim Wu.
India does not have a law for net neutrality. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, while granting licences propagates the principle of non-discrimination but it does not enforce it. The Information and Technology Act, gives no regulatory measures for net neutrality and the ISPs can control the internet best suited to their interests by introducing premiums on certain activities like downloading and surfing.
Meaning and Significance of Net Neutrality
In India it is mostly the telecom companies which are also Internet Service Providers. However, unlike telephone lines where the operator was not worried how often one makes a call and to which entity, as they neither blocked access to a specific number or code or delayed connecting time unless called-for by law. The same principle was stretched to internet and the ISPs did not control or moderate the traffic according to the usage or bandwidth. This is known as net neutrality. It creates an even playing field for all users who can now easily access any service or website. People have the freedom of expression under legal limits and are not charged for using a particular service more than the rest. Thus, broadly, net neutrality stands for-
- Equal access to all websites without any favoured blocking by ISPs
- Access at a constant speed without any preferences
- Cost of access of all websites should be same irrespective of plans. Indian internet lanes are largely slow so there is speed is not the criteria.
- No paid prioritization
The app developers and other ISPs are feeling the neutrality heat. Telecom companies also vie for share of revenues collected by app service providers as the latter use their networks to reach the consumers. Telecom companies are now pushing for regulatory framework for app service providers or over the top (OTT) players like Facebook, Whatsapp etc. for differential pricing for better access to network. The battle for share of revenues has come in way of freedom of access for the customers.
Thus, the phenomena of new neutrality are the guardian of the freedom and openness of internet. Any regulation to sacrifice it will mean empowering the ISPs to shape and modify internet traffic as per their fancies. They may introduce package plans for different kinds and levels of services.