Is internet really important in our life? I know it is a very stupid question to ask but for a moment, just think about all the things you obtain through internet or all the everyday problems which internet solves. The list goes long. In the 21st century, internet has become a utility or a platform which has provided us with numerous applications to ease our life. But soon this utility might transform itself into a luxury for the rich. You read it right; internet might become a “luxury”.
The internet which you use right now gives you immense freedom. All that you have to do is to subscribe to a data plan and all the websites which exists on the internet can be accessed by you freely, without any difficulty. But did you hear about something called “net neutrality”? For those who heard of it and sent an e-mail to the TRAI, I appreciate your efforts. But for those who didn’t hear about it or heard about it but didn’t do the simple task of e-mailing or those who just ignored or just scrolled down through their newsfeed I shall tell you what it is all about.
Internet neutrality or net equality means that all the content, data, information etc. which exists on the internet must be accessible to everyone without any discrimination and when I talk about discrimination I mean the instances where your telecom company might slow down the access to a website A because they have a deal with website B so that you would be stuck with the latter. For example- Under Airtel’s scheme called “Airtel Zero“, the app firm signs a contract and Airtel provides the apps for free to its customers. The reports of Flipkart joining the “Airtel Zero” scheme drew some negative responses and thus Flipkart pulled out of it. Similarly, a tie-up between Facebook and Reliance Communication called Internet.org provides access to certain selected internet services to Reliance Telecom’s subscribers only and has been criticized.
Recently, various debates and discussions are being generated and efforts are being made so that internet neutrality prevails in the country. Notably, these days one of the most observable sites among the social media sites is of “Save the Internet”. The non-existence of internet neutrality may have serious implications which will hinder our everyday lives as undoubtedly internet has become a crucial or indispensable part of it.
Earlier I used the term “luxury” as no net neutrality would mean that you will have to pay extra bucks to access the internet. This is how it works- if you want to have the privilege of accessing the internet, first pay for the data plan and then if you want to access a certain website, buy its plan and if you want high speed then further pay for it as well. This means that if you want to access Instagram you will have to buy its pack or if you want to access Facebook Messenger, buy another pack for it. This way your pocket will be just left with dimes.
Competition too will get affected in a serious manner, especially for the new entrepreneurs as internet provides them with a platform to spread a word about their work and in this reign of no net neutrality the dominance of the already established companies would remain intact. Although some people say that net neutrality is not a reality, that the giants of internet dominate the market and that the small startups don’t have much of a chance, but straightforwardly accepting such sayings would be wrong. Not having a chance is another thing and not even being provided with one is another thing.
Non-existence of net neutrality would mean closed internet where the established persons and the government will have control over the content. A 2014 film named “Killswitch” argues that internet belongs to an alliance of people and not to the government or business interests; a threat to net neutrality is a threat to the democracy as this goes against the notion of freedom of speech and expression.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has put a paper on its website called “Consultation Paper for Regulatory Framework for Over the Top (OTT) Services” which states that the telecom operators are working towards such a scheme because they don’t get enough return as compared to the amount which they invest in providing infrastructure to the these apps. The TRAI had also asked for people’s opinion regarding this through Q&A method and it got one million e-mails in reply, which is by and far considered to be the biggest ever response that has been generated in the country.
Talking about the legal aspects of net neutrality, India doesn’t have any law which supports it. TRAI guidelines for the Unified Access Service license promote net neutrality but don’t enforce it. Further, the Information Technology Act, 2000 does not prohibit companies from throttling their services in accordance with their business interests. The countries which have laws regarding net neutrality are Chile, Netherlands, United States of America, and Brazil. A lot can be learnt from the laws of these countries and India should approach towards this issue seriously, otherwise to a country which has recently removed Section 66A of the IT Act, 2000, and has celebrated it, the addition of the plans against net neutrality would mean an utter defeat.