This is a transcript of what was said in the Rajya Sabha
There was a discussion on Net Neutrality in the Rajya Sabha today, initiated by Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien. The Minister of Communication & Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad opened the discussion. This is what MPs had to say*:
The minister I thank, firstly I thank him for sharing the optimism which we’ve always had. I want to make a few specific points on this note and then I’ve got some specific queries. Its a 4 page note, sir. The first two pages with all the enthusiasm shared by the minister sounded like a Wikipedia entry on the internet, if you key in the words internet or if you key in the words digital india, all very nice, all very highfalutin, all very poetical but today’s discussion I want to keep on the facts so I’m not going to comment on the first two pages but that doesn’t matter, I think lets get to the meat of the matter.
Let us try and explain to people who don’t know this. They think this internet is one complicated thing from outer space. What is the issue? The issue is its like electricity, what is the debate today? Electricity is being supplied to your home, you’re paying 1500 Rupees. Now the electricity supplier is telling you, as suggested, is that if you use your fridge and your microwave, and if it stands down you have to pay a little more. If you use your fan and your tubelight, you’ll pay a little less. If you’re using a washing machine which is of a particular brand, you have to pay a little less. This is the basic concept as explained to a layman. I wish the govt in the last 2 months has taken some trouble to nip this jargon of net neutrality and they’ve continued with the jargon through this statement.
My specific questions, specific: TRAI was constituted a consultation paper (CP) on march the 27th. The tone of the consultation paper, if anyone has read in this house, it sounds like a CP dictated by a telecom major. Now I don’t want to guess which telecom major but it sounded like that. The CP of TRAI is blatantly in favour not of the consumer, you’ve given us the thing about the youth of the country etc etc, but its not in the favour of the youth of the internet user, its in favour of TRAI, er its in favour of telecom. The last one, what woke you off? BJP are very good in their trolls, you know vote for this, do for that but this time its the net which woke you up. Because there was a hashtag running there called #NetNeutrality (NN). Emails were sent and this is the danger, emails were sent to TRAI, how many emails? 10 lakh emails. 1 million emails. Now that’s a small number you may say because there’s so many people in the country. 1 lakh emails, the whole internet was very very angry, your youth etc so much so, I wont reveal the gentleman’s name, but a senior BJP leader told me, we created this Twitter and social media army, very good but now we can’t control the social media army. So its come back like the Australian bowling? Now what happened was very dangerous. Sir, and this is a cause for serious concern. Beyond even Net Neutrality. And I say this with all responsibility. Those 10L people, young people, executives people who are keen professionals, their 10L emails were leaked. They were put up on the TRAI website for 1.5 days. My specific questions to the minister: why have you compromised the privacy of these 10L individuals? Its a very serious issue. By putting it up for 36 hrs and then quietly putting it down, sir, this is a very dangerous trend. Because you’re going to target these people after this.
I’ve got 3 specific questions, one of I think you answered. I ask you what is the govt’s stand on Net Neutrality, on page 3 you have written 3 bold lines there. If you, if I take that as the answer, that would be acceptable if this is your stance. Make it clear sir on the floor of the house. Number 2, which is the larger question, is the govt considering amending the IT act, if yes, yes, if no, why not? Whether the govt is considering regulating the internet in a good way, because like electricity are you considering internet being for public good? And I’ve got 3 suggestions sir, very quickly: We need to create rules but I am sure you will agree, we’ll also agree we need to create rules. Do you intend to make the internet into a license raj? My last 2 sir, you said you’ve listened to all the stakeholders, I am happy that the chairman brought this subject up. And I’m even happier that he brought this up before, the agrarian crisis came before this otherwise we tend to get carried away and NN is not the end of the world, no, agrarian crisis is 100 times more imp than NN.
So on this, sir, on this freedom of speech debate, you have said it in your reply, I’ve accepted it in the spirit talk to everybody sir, you’ve got a strong message on this, on the users of social media. Those are the people you talk to and the last point sir, will the minister give an assurance to parliament, that no action will be taken TRAI or otherwise without taking Parliament into confidence.
I want to compliment the Minister for the statement here made. But do not underestimate the US’s resolve to dominate this area specifically after the leakages of the slowdown. It will have access to global, that and the privacy and secrecy of our defence services, our private citizens is going to be travelling. How are you going to avoid that? The European Union’s battle against Google right now is of great relevance to India because what it is forcing Google to do is to become net neutral. And that must be followed very closely. There’s a hidden agenda of the service providers, is it like the water suppliers, Honorable Minister, who say that when we you supply water we will make a distinction between the types of water say users are drinking or using in the toilet. Its a very serious issue.
We have to simplify it to this level because the ability of the service providers is beyond our comprehension. The TRAI must get its intention clear and onceHonorable Minister is clear about what is going to be done, I repeat what Mr Derek has said, kindly bring him to the floor of this house because the net is going to be the principle instrument for fighting poverty, for maintaining privacy and when those 1 billion people have net in their hands, they must have the freedom as Indian citizens not subservient to any service provider or international innovators. Thank you.
So the internet is going to redefine our future and create a wide array of opportunities for the younger generation. We must take care and ensure that these opportunities are for everyone and not for a select few. That is why it is important that the principal of NN is developed and armed, held by our govt. So I’d like to give an example of which I read on the internet when this issue had come up and such an interesting thing can only be said by youngsters on the net. When this problem came up, they described it as going into Disneyland, paying an entrance fee, and paying separate fees for every ride and all the rides which are actually more sought after, you pay for it and there are a few free rides also.
So this is how beautifully are able to express themselves in the net. And we should take care that nothing stops this, nothing changes this and we’ve always always been wondering whether the younger generation is concerned about social issues, is concerned about issues which affect them, which affect us as a country. And when this issue came up we can clearly see how the younger generation specifically of this country came together and fought against this as a whole. And social media fights have been buzzing with activity to save the net. And this activism is very important and it has to, and its been, and it has to spread to other issues also. So I’d like to have a few clarifications and I’d like to thank the minister for his statement here and he is reiterated many times in his statement that NN, they will make sure that there is NN.
What are the steps being taken to address the concerns raised by small websites that they would not be able to compete with the powerful websites who are joining hands with the Internet.org’s service providers. And in his statement the DMK treasurer MK Stalin has declared that the internet should become a civic right like others.
Does the govt have any proposal to make internet a civic right which can be addressed by one and all?
And according to media reports, TRAI was supposed to hold discussions with multi share holders advisory group on this topic. What are the outcomes of this discussion and the govt should make sure that all its websites and portals should be free online. And this will show that the govt is serious about e-governance.
We strongly criticize the so called consultation document that is published by TRAI. A document that supports the telecom monopolies and Internet monopolies against the people. We also support the ongoing struggle for Net Neutrality. Now the Internet, there is a continuous demand that it must be declared as a public utility. Because the Internet is a source of knowledge, means of communication and a vehicle for all forms of media. Interestingly, a number of telecom companies like Reliance along with some Internet companies are offering special packages. The bundle only a few websites and services pretending this limited Internet is the whole Internet. This is a dangerous thing, because such cartels between the telecom companies and a few global Internet monopolies will lead to further concentration of economic power in the Internet.
Now my specific question is, that the telecom companies have been continuously arguing that they need more money to build infrastructure to meet the demand for the new Internet-based services. Hence they claim they need to violate Net Neutrality. What the telecom companies do not disclose is that the revenues from data services that they are earning, is 100% increase in 2004. Every quarter this is looking up. Services like Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube are increasing the revenues. What the telecom companies are asking is to be paid twice. The users will pay once and they will also want the Internet companies to pay them more money. I will ask the government that this needs to be looked upon. Another point I would like to make.
Sir, I’ve already raised this question in Zero hour this week and I want to repeat what was being said. There is a situation happening where a single operator is providing net connectivity. And sir, these people are about to exploit the situation which might become very dangerous. Sir I would also like to know from the Honourable Minister, through you, the government is an interested party as these telecom operators share a part of the revenue with the government. How is the government planning to balance the potential increase in revenue coming means of non net neutrality and how will it protect the freedom of expression?
My second question to the Honourable Minister is, how will a level playing field be provided to small businesses and startups who use the Internet and e-commerce to further their growth and compete with giants of the world? Sir, Facebook, and in fact some other companies, have made voluntary gestures for Net Neutrality and other big players too. I fail to understand why the TRAI is overenthusiastic in disclosing all 10 lakh emails and putting all of these people at risk and siding with these operators. Sir, I want an enquiry through you to go see who is behind this concept in India and who is trying to instigate it. The government says they don’t want it, the consumers say they don’t want it, the Internet companies don’t want it. I want to know who wants to break Net neutrality.
NV Rajeev Gowda:
In February, a 61-year-old farmer from North Karnataka participated in a pre-budget discussion with our chief minister Siddaramaiah. He suggested to the CM that the crop insurance claims can be settled promptly without corruption if the government made use of Google Earth to map the coordinates of the land and use WhatsApp to transmit pictures of the crop damage. That is just part of the wisdom coming from a really old man talking about the potential of the Internet and its transformational potential. Sir, if we want to make use of this transformational potential we have to ensure net neutrality. I have had the chance to participate using technology before the Internet was born.
I have seen how private networks have fallen aside and open networks have flourished and how crowd-sourcing is made possible and how mainstream media, which is in the hands of the corporate sector, has been bypassed by free and open social media which has even ushered in revolutions like the Arab Spring. Sir, Net neutrality will ensure that newer apps and technologies will emerge. And in the words of Star Trek, Net neutrality will help people, to boldly go where no man has ever gone before. We should not find any way to slow down this extraordinary unleashing the power of human ingenuity. Sir, telecom operators have been licensed to carry traffic, it does not matter whether that traffic is a film, a song or a voice or even digital data. Essentially they have been paid for the platform access and they should not slow down these bits and bytes through subtle methods as discriminatory access.
Only then India can achieve its desired dividend if we create a net neutral platform that will allow online education, mobile commerce and all kinds of innovations to flourish. My question to the minister, while I’m happy with his commitment to Net Neutrality, what about the independence of the TRAI if he is saying that the regulatory authority does not matter and every decision is going to be over ruled by the ministry on the grounds of public policy? Please pay attention to the details of what you have said. “Whatever TRAI says we will do it on the basis of public policy”. I want the independence of regulatory authority to be maintained and how will the minister ensure that?
I thank the minister for the statements earlier. I echo that Net Neutrality is not a complex or philosophical statement. It is, at its heart, very simple and vital to protect consumer interest and protecting them from telecom companies who want to be gate keepers of the Internet. Sir, the simple message from the netizens is this: that the Internet should remain accessible, fair and open and the consumer will oppose any by telecom access providers to carve up the Internet into islands based on commercial contracts in an attempt to what I refer to as cable-ization of the Internet. Sir I have four questions for the minister:
He referred to 75% of the country does not have legislation, I would point out to him that the legislation today vis-a-vis consumer rights and interest in telecom are very weak. So please do not use that as an example to not legislate Net Neutrality. Please assure us that there will be explicit legislation and rules for the same.
Second sir, is the conduct of the TRAI. I have repeatedly raised in this house the need to review the independent regulator. What is the minister going to do in the face of this terrible behaviour and conduct of the TRAI in this consultation? Will he do a comprehensive review of the TRAI, the TRAI Act? Specifically about the sections in the Act which deal with consumer protection and consumer interest.
The third, the TRAI chairman has raised this issue that the corporate rivalry which has led to the issue of Net Neutrality debate. It is a deliberate distraction from the fact. I must request the minister to direct the TRAI any evidence they have of corporate rivalry that has led to this Net Neutrality discussion. It is the right of the Parliament to know, and the right of the people to know, especially when they are trying to distract from a real important debate.
Fourth, I want the minister to assure the House that the consumer cannot, shall not, will not be the guarantor of the business plans of the telcos nor is it the government’s job to protect them from technological disruptions that is the new norm in the sector.
Anand Bhaskar Rapoli:
Last week, in the other House of Parliament, I made my leader take up the cause of Net Neutrality and the hopes of the residents of India have raised. However sir, Net Neutrality is a gentleman’s agreement. Net Neutrality is a goal rather than norm. Net Neutrality is a level playing field. At the same time Net Neutrality is yet to attain the global legality. That is why the complications are growing. The world’s websites are the hidden treasures. The riches and resources of the platforms such as Google, Twitter and Facebook and all other social media are also enlarging the complications. The role of Internet service providers has changed. By 2013, among the net population, India attained the third largest position. And now we are leading and guiding. But with this Net Neutrality and the coming complications of the decade it throws us a challenge on the usage of spectrum.
Not only the usage of spectrum, but the underseekables. In the next few years the pressure on the Internet cables is going to grow and the Internet is going to collapse. What are the Union Government’s measures in that direction to enable the safe Internet, which has become the principal platform for the administration and development welfare? And at the same time your answer has again given us tension, that through TRAI, your intentions are dubious.
A.U. Singh Deo:
Sir, I am completely with Mr. O’Brien and Mr. Chandrashekhar with what they’ve said. The concept of neutral and publically accessible information and transfer of that information has been around since the days of Alexander Graham Bell. Basic public services such as subways, buses, telephone companies etc are not allowed to discriminate, restrict or differentiate common access. This is the core concept behind Net Neutrality as well. In countries such as the United States, this has been a topic of much contention, and telecom companies have attempted to regulate free Internet usage but they failed to prove to massive public response. Now breaching Net Neutrality is illegal in the United States.
The vested interests of telcos is pushing the government to consider breaching the principle of Net Neutrality. Should we not have the freedom to choose which website we want to access and the speed which we want to access above the standard costs telecom companies have imposed on us.
Why should an Aircel or Vodafone be able to choose whether I use Google, or Bing or any other search engine. Why should I be forced to make a choice between Skype or Viber. Sir, my understanding of Net Neutrality tells me that if the change in regulation goes through, telcos will go and tie-up with certain applications in exchange for a price and provide free access only to those applications.
Sir, my question here to the honourable minister is that Net Neutrality is central to the Prime Minister’s vision of Digital India. The honourable Prime Minister had envisaged a Digital India and that thought and vision has been lauded not just in our country but all over the globe. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg who visited India last year not only complimented Digital India but also spoke about how he plans to get millions of Indians online. I would like to ask the PM, how is that the free usage of the Internet can come under threat.
Ravi Prakash Verma:
Sir, Net ka istamal poore Hindustan mein badha hai, aur nagari aur garib, gramin kshetron mein usage badh raha hai. Sir jab jo sarkari operator hai gramin kshetro mein available hai lekin aaj majboori yeh ho rahi hai, ki net ki services aur jo value added services hain, uske liye gramin kshetron mein bhi logon ko BSNL ke alawa doosre operators ke sirf SIM leke chal ke kaam karne padh rahe hain, alag sa ek mobile rakhne padh rahen hai. Mujhe lagta hai TRAI ki jaankari mein sab kuch hai.
Thank you, Hon Minister has said in his speech that govt stands for insuring non discriminatory access to the internet for all citizens in the country, and current debate on net neutrality should be seen from this perspective, while resolving the issues harmoniously and consistent with custodial? and economic principles. I language and broad principles. I hope you can stick to this in the future. Government agrees with the viewpoint that blocking and deliberate slowing down speeding up of wrongful content on the internet should not be allowed, I think you will in course of time be able to define the lawful content because a lot of controversies have arisen because of this, these wordings. and my specific questions are:
Will you enact a legislation on net neutrality because many countries so far have opted not to have any legislation? What is the rationale of those countries who have opted not to have a law in the matter? Have you contacted any of these countries or governments to know their mind on this subject?
Mr. Deputy Chairman, Sir, the potential of the Internet and its usefulness has been stressed by every speaker who spoke before me on this very important subject. I am of the same opinion that Net Neutrality has to be there. If it is not there, then, it means that the Internet service providers will be able to charge companies like YouTube or Netflix as they consume more band width. Eventually the load of extra sum will be passed on to the consumers. Net neutrality is extremely important for small business owners, start-ups and entrepreneurs, who can simply launch their businesses on-line, advertise the products, and sell them openly without any discrimination. Sir, I would like to ask the hon. Minister, by what time would the legislation on Net neutrality be coming to the House, so that the anxieties of all the netizens are put to rest.
Thank you, Sir. I thank the hon. Minister for Communications and Information Technology, Ravi Shankar Prasadji, for his statement. The entire world has become a global village because of the Internet. Net neutrality is a fundamental right under article 21 of our Constitution, that is, the right to life, and also a fundamental right under article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution, that is, the right to freedom of expression. Without Net neutrality, our life would become meaningless. Therefore, the AIDAMK, headed by hon. Amma, firmly supports the concept of Net neutrality and is against any attempt by corporate interests to restrict the Internet.
Thank you sir, all that I want to focus on is, that legislative measures will have to be adopted for protection of the integrity of the data and also for ensuring privacy because if privacy is compromised like the instance Mr Derek O’Brien where the identity of 10 lakh people who sent the email was compromised, if that kind of thing continues to happen, one can dread to think because most of the crimes these days is linked to internet. Misuse of internet. But to whatever extent, we can through legislative process at least protect the privacy and integrity of data that is going to be most critical for the growth of the sector and I think since India is an IT superpower, therefore we must take the lead in evolving a proper legislation to regulate the rights of the consumers.
Thank you sir. Protecting net neutrality is the responsibility of the government, failure to do so would mean allowing the corporate censorship. Corporate ISPs should not have control over what websites will be available to the consumers. Corporate ISPs should not be allowed to differentiate in terms of speed for different websites. Sir, various nations across the world over the last few months brought in legislation to protect net neutrality. Now it is essential for our government also to wake up to the necessity to protect freedom of choice for consumers, to ensure a level playing field for all web companies.
Sir I ask the government whether government will evolve a comprehensive policy. A stated policy on net neutrality. Whether the government will ban certain corporate companies which are against the spirit of net neutrality. If not why? If not why? Govt should answer. Sir nations like Germany are at last promoting open source software in education government departments and defense. This will not only save millions of foreign exchange, but also critical for defense of the nation. What is the thinking of the government. Finally I am not quoting Karl Marx but definitely I quote Dr Ambedkar the new takaf? consistent with constitutional and economic principles, it Dr Ambedkar in the constitution that state should ensure all means of protection to the common good of the society. Whether you will ensure that?
It is the responsibility of the TRAI to have net neutrality and the independence of the net. Now if that is there I am surprised why the TRAI itself has been, its a, there is an air of skepticism from TRAI itself and they are saying that because of not us but because of the rivalry and the competition of the corporates that this is cropped in. I want to ask the minister, that is it not their responsibility, they should clear the air, and why have these issues cropped up.
*The speech has been paraphrased at places for brevity.
Image Credit: Rajya Sabha
Transcription by Shashidhar KJ, Vivek Pai and Sneha Johari