You may have heard about the net neutrality on TV or read it about in newspaper. You may have also searched on internet for it. Net neutrality is currently in news because a high level government committee has recently submitted its report on net neutrality. The topic is also important because a descriptive question of 300 words is recently asked in the UPSC assistant commandant exam. To know what the committee has recommended and the importance of this report , we need to understand the net neutrality and how it affects our use of internet.
Consider two cases:
- Your telecom operator has decided to impose an extra fee of Rs 50 on using a particular android chat app.
- Your telecom operator has launched a new offer in which you can visit an e-commerce site for free i.e. without charges.
Both the above cases are against the net neutrality. Net neutrality means freedom of accessing every site and all of the contents without discriminating or favouring source provider(s).
History of Net Neutrality:
Debate over net neutrality is not new and it is a issue of concern since 2005. But it came into public attentions when a telecom giant Bharti Airtel has announced to impose additional charges for making voice calls from Skype in December 2014. Airtel changed its terms in providing internet service and said that voice calling from skype will be not charged from data pack, but from balance as data usage. Another step in violating net neutrality was taken by Reliance communication in February with the launch of internet.org with Facebook which aimed to provide free access to Facebook and some other sites. Till then net neutrality had become a big issue. In the end of the march TRAI released a consultation paper on over-the-top (OTT) services and net neutrality. Again violating net neutrality, Airtel launched a new plan for its customers named ‘Airtel Zero’ in association with Flipkart. Under the plan Airtel made accessing the Flipkart app free from all Airtel numbers. Supporter of net neutrality protested against it and showed anger by giving one star rating to Flipkart on Google play store. Seeing the negative responses Flipkart pulled out itself from the Airtel Zero plan. In response of consultation paper on over-the-top services(OTT) and net neutrality TRAI received millions of emails in support of net neutrality. Various organizations also came to TRAI with papers saying that they have also support of millions of people.
Telecom companies ignored and violated net neutrality because of lack of governing laws. For example, on ‘Airtel Zero’ TRAI said that Airtel Zero is not illegal but it is wrong.
Arguments in support of net neutrality
- Internet is a free service and anyone can use it. Telecom companies are only medium by which user access internet and pay them for their service.
- Telecom companies are dictating over the users by violating net neutrality .They cannot tell how to use internet. Consider a situation in which your water supplier after telling you to use the water only for drinking, bathing, making food etc. but not for making tea or coffee. If you make tea or coffee it will charge extra.
- It is argued by net neutralists that some companies or sites tie up with telecom companies and increase the surfing speed for their sites as compared to other sites. It is against net neutrality.
- Tie up of Big companies with telecom operators for accessing their sites free can also affect the business of small companies or internet content providers.
- Providing content of a site for free by a particular telecom companies by tying up whereas another telecom service providers are charging of it is against the competition.
Argument against net neutrality:
- According to telecom companies, companies like Whatsapp and Skype are affecting their business. Whatsapp has reduced the revenue earning by SMS whereas Viber and Skype has reduced the revenue earning by calls of telecom companies.
- Telecom companies complains that companies providing calls and messaging by internet has small setup and they don’t have to follow the license norms of TRAI, whereas they have big setup, have to buy spectrum and follow TRAI norms.
- According to telecom companies, they are not slowing or increasing the speed of internet in favour of some internet sites or content providers.
- By tying up with the big companies they have not reduced the choices available to customers.
- Many people in India don’t have access to mobile or data because of being expensive.’ Zero rating’ or declaring a service or app free will help to connect more people to internet.
Report of high level committee of government on net neutrality:
A high level government committee which was constituted by the Telecommunication Ministry on net neutrality has submitted its report recently. Its recommendations have some relaxation and some restrictions on both telecom companies and internet based messaging and voice call providing companies. Major points of the report are as follows:
- Committee has backed free messaging services and says that all impediments in their path must be removed.
- Voice calls made using internet do not adhere to regulation.
- Committee is liberal for international calls but on domestic calls internet voice call providers should follow the same norms as telecom service providers.
- On controversial Zero rating model, committee leaved the decision on TRAI.