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Net Neutrality

All traffic on the Internet must be treated equally by Internet service providers.

Net Neutrality


About Net Neutrality

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality is the Internet’s guiding principle: It preserves our right to communicate freely online. This is the definition of an open Internet.

Net Neutrality means an Internet that enables and protects free speech. It means that Internet service providers should provide us with open networks — and should not block or discriminate against any applications or content that ride over those networks. Just as your phone company shouldn't decide who you can call and what you say on that call, your ISP shouldn't be concerned with the content you view or post online.Those advocating Net neutrality believe all bits of data are equal, and, therefore, should not be discriminated on the basis of content, site or user. This has largely been the default mode since Internet started.

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.

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:

All sites must be equally accessible

  • The same access speed at the telco/ISP level for each (independent of telco selection)
  • The same data cost for access to each site (per KB/MB).
  • This means, Net Neutrality is about:
    1. No telecom-style licensing of Internet companies (see this and this)
    2. No gateways censorship or selection
    3. No speeding up of specific websites (that may or may not pay telcos)
    4. No “zero rating” or making some sites free over others

Consultation Paper

On

Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services/ Internet services and Net Neutrality

Release date: 27th March, 2015. Full version here

The importance of net neutrality

Should the Internet be touched? That’s one way to summarise the twenty questions the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has asked the public in a recent consultation paper. Most questions pertain to whether the hitherto unregulated over-the-top services, typically apps such as Skype and Facebook that ride on telecom networks, need regulation. Views have also been sought regarding net neutrality, the principle of data equality that has over the years ensured the Internet remained a level playing ground. TRAI will eventually take a call on whether India has to change its approach to Internet regulation. But isn’t the Internet perfect the way it is? Apparently not. At least that is what telecom companies believe. After spending billions of dollars in setting up infrastructure and bringing themselves under regulatory scrutiny, telecom companies can’t bear the fact that numerous applications ride on their networks for free. Some of the apps have millions of subscribers and command valuations of billions of dollars. Some like Skype and WhatsApp compete head on with the voice and messaging offerings of the telcos, who to be fair also need money to invest in building networks. Still, what’s not to be forgotten is that the telcos do benefit from the apps that piggyback on them. More app usage means more data consumed and more money inflow. Whether telcos are really aggrieved or not is debatable.

Even if they are, violating the core principle governing the Internet will be a disastrous way of delivering justice. For, the licence to violate net neutrality will mean telcos 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, right from the Googles to the Flipkarts, to dream and act big. It’s well acknowledged that the Internet has disrupted the world of business like no other technology has in recent decades. It has helped start-ups with hardly any capital and clout to still make a mark. 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. Telcos don’t want to be dumb pipes that agnostically transfer data. The cost of their ambition will be the loss of the Internet’s openness.

Why has there been so much of noise about net neutrality in recent months?

First, India’s top telecom company Bharti Airtel, towards the end of last year, decided to charge subscribers extra for use of apps such as Skype and Viber. These apps compete with the voice and messaging services of telecom providers, and are even cheaper. There was uproar, after which Airtel stayed its decision, saying it would wait for regulator Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (TRAI) Consultation Paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services.

Then, Facebook brought to India internet.org, a pre-selected bouquet of Web sites offered free to subscribers of Reliance Communications. There was not much controversy then.

The buzz became really big after TRAI put out a 118-page consultation paper asking the public for its opinion on 20 questions, most of them about how the Internet can be regulated. Views were also sought on net neutrality.

Over 4.2 lakh mails had been sent in support of net neutrality through the savetheinternet.in Web site(till 15th April,2015). Political parties such as the Congress, political leaders such as Arvind Kejriwal and celebrities such as Shah Rukh Khan joined the bandwagon, as has the comedy group All India Bakchod through a video. All of them argue why the Internet should not be touched. TRAI will be open to taking comments till April 24, and counter comments by May 8. In between all this, Airtel launched Airtel Zero, which is a free offering of a slew of apps that sign up with the telecom provider.

Who benefits from net neutrality? How?

Every Internet user. Think through how you would like to browse the Internet. Wouldn’t you like to access the Web without worrying about how differently videos will be charged compared to other forms of content? Wouldn’t you like to access the Web without the telecom service provider getting to serve some sites faster than others? If yes for both, you are pro-Net neutrality.

New ventures benefit too. In fact, one of the key reasons for start-ups to have come up in a big way in recent decades is the openness of the Internet. The Internet has reduced transaction costs and levelled the playing field.

A start-up can come up with an app today, and can immediately attract a global audience. The likes of Googles and Facebooks could have struggled to grow if the Internet had not been open.

Then, why do we need to think about regulating the Internet?

Essentially because the telecom companies do not like the way the apps are riding on their networks for free. The companies complain that voice-calling and messaging apps are cannibalising their business. On top of all this, it is they who have to invest billions in getting access to spectrum and build networks as also adhere to regulations.

So, absence of net neutrality will benefit telecom companies?

It could make them a gatekeeper to a valuable resource, a role that supporters of Net neutrality feel will be misused to create winners and losers. They could charge companies a premium for access to users.

It would not be a telecom companies versus internet players issue, as could be mistakenly perceived. For, the absence of Net neutrality could also benefit established Internet companies who are flush with money. They could nip challengers in the bud with vastly higher payoffs to telecom companies.

Is this an 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, throttle traffic nor give access priority for money. Europe is trying to correct a 2013 proposal for Net neutrality, in which privileged access was allowed to ‘specialised services.’ This was vague and threatened Net neutrality. Chile last year banned zero-rated schemes, those where access to social media is given free to telecom subscribers.

source : The Hindu

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