pioneer (1)By Kushan Mitra

Net Neutrality argues that every online site or app should be accessible to the consumer without telecom companies charging extra fees for priority access. But India’s biggest telecom company, along with one of the country’s top e-retailers, has already violated this principle

This newspaper has always argued for the freedom of Indian citizens to be able to surf the Internet and speak their minds on the Internet.  A recent Supreme Court two-judge Bench scrapped the contentious Section 66(A) of the Information Technology Act which had been introduced as a poison pill by the United Progressive Alliance, thereby, making a mockery of the word ‘progressive’ in its name. The Modi Government should have been more pro-active in removing the law as it had become a joke, recently, when a class 11 student was arrested for apparently insulting Uttar Pradesh Minister Azam Khan. That said, the BJP Government can take a stand on Internet freedom in a completely different battle — the battle for Net Neutrality. This topic has been needlessly made controversial a recent paper, authored by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, which strongly favours telecom operators charging ‘rent’, in a matter of speaking, from service providers to provide services to the customers.

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Telecom operators have been arguing that Internet services are eating their lunch and it is their ‘right’ to charge this ‘rent’. They have also argued that by charging this ‘rent’ — and let us not make any bones about the term, it is an illegal ‘rent’, no less than a form of extortion that telecom service providers are charging — they are trying to stay afloat. An example that is often cited is that of WhatsApp. This popular online-based messaging service has completely decimated the personal text messaging market. Service providers, who used to rub their hands with glee when they ripped-off customers on festive occasions by charging usurious rates for messaging, have been left high and dry with the advent of WhatsApp and other similar online mobile services.

Net Neutrality has a simple argument — every service and online site should be served to the customer without any undue priority in lieu of money. This money is the extortion or ‘rent’ we spoke about earlier. For example, this could be in the form of charging consumers an additional sum of money to access WhatsApp. Similarly, a telecom service provider can also charge a company to enable customers to access a site or use an application for ‘free’.

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Image Credit: John Leach’s Everybody Loves Eric Raymond. Image used for representation purposes only.