Just In: Chairman Parliamentary Committee On IT Speaks Out On Net Neutrality

Posted on April 16, 2015 in Politics, Staff Picks

By Karthik Shankar for Youth Ki Awaaz:

The never ending saga of net neutrality in India finally seems to have found a supporter in the right place. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology chairman, Anurag Thakur, has now issued a statement in favour of net neutrality.

The statement comes just a day after a TRAI official admitted that Airtel Zero and Facebook and Reliance’s internet.org tie up, violated the spirit of net neutrality.

Previously, as quoted by the Economic Times, the chairman had voiced his support saying, “There should be independence for the customer in usage of the net once a data pack has been paid for,” and that there “should not be a check to see if the person is visiting site ‘A’ or ‘B’ once he has paid the telecom operator for data”.

Net neutrality has evolved from an esoteric topic into one at the centre of nationwide debate in recent days. Even celebrities like Shah Rukh Khan have entered the fray by endorsing it. As of April 15, 2015, more than 600,000 individuals have sent submissions to TRAI on the present consultation after visiting www.savetheinternet.in. The result? Web sites that committed to Airtel Zero or internet.org have started pulling out. Flipkart pulled out of Airtel Zero after the furore, which led to a slew of people giving its app a one star rating. Clear Trip, News Hunt, NDTV and Times Now also withdrew from internet.org.

The pro-neutrality response by many internet services may seem like victories but they will be short-lived unless stringent laws are drafted by the TRAI. The TRAI consultation paper reveals that telecom providers have put forward the argument that  over the top services such as Facebook, Whatsapp and Skype violate the the antiquated Telegraph Act of 1885! Clearly laws require a lot of updating given how rapidly communications have evolved in the past two decades.

For its part Airtel and Facebook do not seem to be backing down. Mark Zuckerberg has framed internet.org as a philanthropic endeavour of providing internet access to those people who do not have access to the internet at all. In a statement, he said “For people who are not on the internet though, having some connectivity and some ability to share is always much better than having no ability to connect and share at all. That’s why programs like Internet.org are important and can co-exist with net neutrality regulations.” Meanwhile Airtel continues to protest that its plan is about giving users a toll free data service rather than charging them tariffs. All these are neat ways of disguising discriminatory internet practices however.

The debate over net neutrality in India is raging just as the Federal Communications Commission which regulates all communication including over the internet published an extremely rigorous list of network neutrality rules. All of these are expected to be challenged through lawsuits by several internet service providers over the upcoming weeks. Clearly, the battle over net neutrality is not going to die down anytime soon.

To know more about how the issue of Net Neutrality affects you, read this.

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