What is 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.

The case for net neutrality has slowly but firmly attained critical mass and entered the mainstream consciousness supported by politicians and celebrities like Digvijay Singh, Shahrukh Khan and Farhan Akhtar tweeting their support for a free internet. The debate caught public imagination especially after an AIB video explaining net neutrality went viral on the web to the extent that Facebook had to take it off after it’s algos decided the video was spam. But the video was restored shortly, say reports.

The video has already been viewed by over 1,146,503 just two days after being uploaded.   Celebrities weighed in and the hashtag #NetNeutrality and  #SaveTheInternet began trending on Twitter. The hastag was viewed by more than 20 million unique users worldwide, half of which were original posts and the other half retweets. 

AIB Video from Youtube

Concerns regarding a potentially biased Internet came to surface after e-tailer Flipkart signed a deal with Airtel to be featured on its marketing plan -- Airtel Zero. Airtel says through this platform, it will allow consumers to access applications "free of cost." Why then anybody would need to fight off a plan (Airtel Zero) that aims to make web cheaper or in this case "free of cost"? For the simple reason it discriminates between the apps and services it has signed a deal with and leave out others, thereby giving itself the power to dictate the flow of internet traffic. 

In the deal, Flipkart has essentially agreed to buy data from Airtel on behalf of its potential customers in order to provide its app for free. This means that users get to access the Flipkart app for free on Airtel zero platform while they still will be incurred data charges for accessing for example peer websites such as shopclues.com or a start-up, which doesn’t have the financial heft to strike such deals with telecom companies. Telecom companies will be able to regulate what users access online, the way they access it and in what quantum, if this were to become a norm. 

The news website medianama.com was among the few that spotted the potential harm this might lead to and built a campaign around it. Websites like Savetheinternet.in and netneutrality.in (created by reddit user: ishan001) are at the frontline of the battle along with the activist community on Reddit India. The topic "Fight for Net Neutrality: The way forward" is ranked highest on Reddit India homepage. In the discussion threads, online activists discussed ways to increase the reach of the campaign by means of  memes and infographics . One came up with a plan: users should down-rate Airtel and Flipkart apps on Google Play and Apple App store. 

The telecom regulator TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has come up with a consultation paper inviting comments from general public on whether telecom companies be allowed to charge users separately for accessing services such as Facebook, Viber, WhatsApp among other social media and messaging apps (called 'OTT' or Over the Top Services in technical jargon). Apparently, telecom companies such as Airtel are perturbed at heavy profits these OTTs are making, riding on their airwaves and infrastructure, which they say involve heavy capital infrastructure and maintenance cost. They also allege losing call and messaging revenue to OTTs such as WhatApp and Viber. 

The above two issues are collectively pose a grave threat to the concept of Net neutrality, say activists. The moderators of the above discussion thread and Medianama.com have collated answers and made TRAI's questionnaire of 20 questions (spread over 118 pages) easier to understand. They have also urged visitors to mail their responses to TRAI keeping netneutralityindia02@gmail.com in the bcc (option is given to the user to edit the collated answers). Over 1 Lakh emails have been sent to TRAI via this method. Currently, there is no law to enforce net neutrality but one Redditer--Karan Shah, has taken it upon himself to fill the gap. 

He has come up with " Guidelines on the Net Neutrality and Internet Traffic Management Act, 2015 ." "There are literally no guidelines on this issue. The act which should ideally cover these things dates to 1885, a time we didn’t even have internet! Therefore, the idea is that there should be some guidelines. TRAI has come up with a paper on this very issue, but the paper is largely biased towards the telecom players and thus the campaign was launched so that TRAI could be told that Net Neutrality matters. 

In line with what all major developed countries have ruled: the ideal internet should be neutral, like how we buy electricity: You would wonder how consumers would react if the electricity discom started selling fan pack, tube light pack, CFL pack, etc? Right now, just this is happening, in the virtual world," said Shah.

courtesy to  Manu Kaushik,  www.moneycontrol.com