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The Big Picture – Net Neutrality: Intricacies and implications

The Big Picture – Net Neutrality: Intricacies and  implications

Summary:

How we access internet and various applications in the future is now under question. The

debate raging across the country now and being watched across the world keenly is on the

issue of Net Neutrality. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has in the meanwhile come

out with a consultation paper on the regulatory framework on what is known as Over The Top

(OTT) services. Even as this paper is being scrutinized many questions raised in it are being

looked into. The debate has become furious after some telecom companies like Airtel and

Reliance, and websites like Google and Facebook are said to be already violating the idea of net

neutrality.

Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers and governments should treat all

data on the Internet equally, not discriminating or charging differentially by user, content, site,

platform, application, type of attached equipment, or mode of communication. Neutrality

proponents claim that telecom companies seek to impose a tiered service model in order to

control the pipeline and thereby remove competition, create artificial scarcity, and oblige

subscribers to buy their otherwise uncompetitive services. Many believe net neutrality to be

primarily important as a preservation of current freedoms.

Proponents of the principle of net neutrality hold that all traffic on the Internet should be

treated equally or in other words, service providers such as Airtel should allow access to all

content without favouring any particular product or website. The net neutrality debate

becomes even more relevant in case of India where the penetration of smart phones is

increasing and efforts are on to bring more people to the Internet, through the digital India

campaign. Presently, there are no norms for net neutrality in India.

While on the other hand, the telecom/Internet Service Providers argue that they have made

huge investments in broadband capacity, and, therefore, they should be allowed to charge for

the services, which generate lot of traffic. Preventing the service providers from charging for

over-the-top services (OTT) services would mean that they would reduce their investments in

building networks.

Currently, there are no laws enforcing net neutrality in India. Although TRAI guidelines for the

Unified Access Service license promote net neutrality, it does not enforce it. The Information

Technology Act 2000 also does not prohibit companies from throttling their service in

accordance with their business interests.

The violation of net neutrality will mean telecom companies could now be in a position to

ensure some sites are served faster than others. It could also mean it becomes costlier to use

certain applications. Most importantly, it could endanger the very feature of the Internet that

has over the years made it possible for countless start-ups to dream and act big. So by rejecting

net neutrality, which will enable telcos to play the gatekeeper to a valuable resource, we will be

shutting the door on the entrepreneurial aspirations of millions. That’s because the only way

for them to compete with the big moneyed Internet players would be to match their spends to

make the Internet work for them. The absence of net neutrality will definitely benefit the telcos

while at the same time harming the market by unleashing monopolistic tendencies.