Will India revise its policy on Net Neutrality post the US decision?

 

Most of you will remember that TRAI had laid guidelines on net neutrality in 2016. This was on the heels of Facebook offering free internet under certain conditions via Free Basics which started a raging debate in the country on the subject of net neutrality.

Jay Parikh, Facebook’s vice-president of engineering, had said a few years ago, “Our mission is to connect everybody in the world. This is going to be a great opportunity for us to motivate the industry to move faster on this technology.”

Mark Zuckerberg’s plan to introduce Free Basics in India ( which at that time had already been introduced in 30 other countries according to Facebook ) was launched with a fairly aggressive full page ad in the national dailies in India. It was a mini-thesis written by Mr Zuckerberg on Free Basics, which is why it attracted the most attention.

The net neutrality debate seems to rest on one contentious point : should access to some kind of content be priced differently from other kinds of content. For example most ODD operators have been fighting to price their access at higher rates because they need much higher band width than lighter content that might be availed off by the common man. A great example is Ganesh the farmer in the Facebook ad above. The question is quite simple. Will me binge watching on Netflix rob Ganesh’s bandwidth to read the latest weather forecasts which are crucial for his farm managment? The problem becomes even more complex if we are to assume that I will pay the same as Ganesh for internet access.

The force behind the new move in the US is FCC Chairman Ajit Pai an ex- Verizon lawyer who seems to have gone ahead with a policy that is being dubbed unpopular by many. The fear of course if that the large players in any country could create ” fast lanes ” for the internet highway that might push less privileged consumers to the “slow lanes”. Internet pipes are just like water pipes. Water pipes can’t control what flows through them. And therefore christened the “dumb pipe”. And net neutrality advocates believe that it should be the same with the internet. ISPs should have no control on which websites you visit or how fast certain sites should load.

In the end the entire debate also rests on what is most democratic. And, if removing net neutrality creates a hierarchy of consumers into privileged and under-priveleged lots. Not to mention privileged and under-priveleged content providers. For a country like India where the difference between the richest and the poorest is already very high, the removal of net neutrality might just mean one more point of discrimination between the rich and the poor.

Of course the fight on net neutrality might be far from over even in the US, as the proponents of net neutrality take legal recourse to fight the issue in the courts!

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Prabhakar Mundkur has spent 40 years in advertising and worked in India, Africa and Asia. He is currently Chief Mentor with HGS Interactive a part of HGS in the Hinduja Group. He is on the advisory board of Sol 's Arc (solsarc.org ) an NGO dedicated to special education for intellectually challenged children. He is also a member of Whiteboard ( whiteboardindia.org ) which supports senior management of NGOs in financial management, PR, Communication and HR through pro bono expertise.

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