Rajeev Chandrasekhar, an independent Member of Parliament in the Rajya Sabha from Bangalore, decided to come on Reddit for Ask Me Anything (AMA) session. The discussion touched upon topics such as net neutrality, the telecom and digital industry, policy making and appealing for transparency in all sectors. He also assured to take essential inputs to the parliament to discuss with the government.
Here are some of the questions and answers, we found interesting and insightful. Some of the questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
Question: Why hasnt India’s definition for Broadband increased? USA has it at 25Mbps, pakistan is at 10Mbps.. that is 50 times and 20 times better than us respectively. We are slowest in South Asia.. Why this disparity?
Cost of the internet plans are like 50% cheaper as well in a country like pakistan.
Rajeev: I think both the previous Govt and the regulator have failed in creating a framework that would accelerate investments in Internet access networks and Internet backbone networks. Telcos and ISPs have been poorly regulated on issues of customer and network quality and thats why you are frustrated with your Internet experience!
Question: there are no privacy laws in India. Why so?
Rajeev: Good question!! We must have it .. I tried introducing one as a Private members bill in Parliament in 2011. I think its critical given the amount of data and information about individuals that are now in the hands of govt departments and corporates. A strong privacy law that gives rights to consumers is required NOW!!!
Question: My questions to you are aimed at understanding the Net Neutrality view that is building up inside DoT and TRAI:
Are DoT and TRAI going to disallow Zero-Rating or not?
Why are DoT and TRAI not discussing much better alternatives to zero-rating?
Why are OTT players (like Flipkart and Cleartrip) not being invited to DoT panel meetings whereas COAI and Telcos are always present? Numerous startups which have taken a stand against zero-rating and licensing would be very eager to share their views with the DoT panel.
Is DoT still considering licensing VOIP services like Whatsapp and Skype?
Rajeev: I am not privy to their final decisions! I did read some disturbing press reports that the DOT has changed its stance from saying it believe zero rating was anti net neutrality to one where they support it. I for one will oppose that if that does happen and so wll many others. The TRAI’s view and response remains a mystery. Their role in this is now moot because the government will decide the definition and policy for net neutrality.
2. I agree with you. They should. Lets see what they say first. The government/DOT is expected to publish its report soon.
3. There is pressure to regulate the OTTs on the DOT. I am not sure what this kind of regulation will entail or what its objectives would be. I for one do not believe that regulating apps on the internet are either necessary or feasible.!
Also read from MediaNama: Mozilla’s Mitchell Baker offers alternatives to zero-rating for Internet services
Question: There have been misleading campaigns made by COAI and Facebook like SabkaInternet hashtag, misscall/sms support. People are thinking Internet for all is same as Neutral Internet. This has resulted in COAI and TRAI claiming they have recieved more support(misscalls,sms) for a non neutral free Internet. I fear the Govt will rule in their favour especially with the lobby culture in all political parties. Your thoughts?
Also, do you think if SabkaInternet and Internet.org comes to fruition, will rural India really get internet connectivity at a faster pace? Internet.org has no plans to improve infrastructure unlike Google’s similar initiative. Internet.org just wants to provide a few services for free.
Rajeev: It is bakwas (rubbish) !! Full on bakwas ! The only people who would support the Telecom operators position on net neutrality as it is today are themselves ! or a few consumers who are mistakenly being swayed by the promise of free internet.! Let us be clear there’s no free lunch when it comes to private companies and Telcos in particualar!
Also read from MediaNama: COAI’s Net Neutrality campaign gets 40 lakh supporters; But do they know what they’re supporting? and Facebook launches a campaign for Internet.org; claims over 100k supporters
Question: State owned company like BSNL has different internet plans for different states. Why this differentiation within Indians?
Rajeev: The plans are crazy high taking into consideration that companies like ACT/BEAM offer much better speeds, and at considerably lower prices. Cost of the internet plans are like 50% cheaper as well in a country like Pakistan via state-owned companies. (PTCL VS BSNL)
Question: Service tax has been increased, but speeds are static. Bad pings and overall very poor customer care via MTNL/BSNL. Why don’t our politicians discuss the sorry state of affairs consumers have to go through, even though they use BSNL/MTNL lines themselves?
Rajeev: The performance of the TRAI has been poor in ensuring the ISPs and Telcos are regulated well vis-a-vis consumer experience, speed, quality and reliability . So far consumers have been silent. The net neutrality consultation by the TRAI is the first occassion where Internet consumers of India have mobilized so markedly to protest and push back! More of consumer activism is required to get TRAI and indeed the govt to do the right thing always.
The reason for such high costs for bandwidth in India is primarily lack of robust competition. Competition is the only way to ensure consumers get better product and service!
Also read from MediaNama: BSNL announces free nightly calls. Cool story bro. Can we fix the sorry broadband service too?
Question: Hi Rajeev, why do you think we are in this position today where Net Neutrality is a raging debate? Isn’t the need for Net Neutrality self evident? Why are governments the whole world over struggling with this question?
Rajeev: In India this has happened because government of the past didn’t listen to my repeated request to have a multi-stakeholder discussion on the future of the Internet and its governance. That would have permitted a transparent discussion involving consumers and other stakeholders where we could have evolved all the issues including the nature of the Internet viz a viz Net neutrality. For too long a few politicos and bureacrats have wanted to control policy making and bingo thats why where we are…
Question: What is your view on amount of snooping done by our governments?
What is your view on blatant blocking of websites
Do you think that India should lead the world and make a strong net neutrality law, for other countries to follow?
Rajeev: Snooping is an invasion of privacy and as I’ve said we need strong privacy laws that give citizens rights to challenge any invasion of privacy by govt or anyone.
Blocking of websites or take downs as what you probably mean was under the old Sec 66 A of the IT act. Given our Supreme Court’s recent ruling that struck it down as illegal, governments no longer have the ability to randomly ask for take downs.
The failtel nexus can only be taken on through people and consumer power. You guys have shown your mobilization once and every time any hero in Delhi tries a nexus, lets stop it :)
Yes Yes Yes. India is the worlds largest democracy – we are a tech savvy nation – we are going to be amongst worlds largest Internet user communities – Yes we must show the world what a free liberal tech savvy democracy can do with the Internet and lead the charge on Net neutrality and Internet Governance!
Also read from MediaNama: Section 66A may be back again, with a different name and packaging and Dear Thane cops, didn’t you hear Section 66A is dead? and India is an enemy of the Internet thanks to CMS and Netra
Question: 1. So far the Net Neutrality debate involved the existing users of the Internet (apart from TRAI and telecom operators). Even TRAI invited feedback by emails(primarily). Wouldn’t this exclude the current non users of the Internet, who might be benefiting from concepts like Zero rating? It is ironic that if there was some zero rating, they could at least send a mail to TRAI. Telecom operators who provide zero rating may not be speaking for those customers necessarily.
2. What is the clear line between the public Internet and say an Intranet built on top of the existing Internet. If another company creates a walled garden apart from the telecom operator and gives it for free access is it more acceptable? Then there would be N Intranets than one created by any particular company and one can pick and choose theoretically.
3. So far the debate has been about all packets should be treated equally than similar packets treated equally(QoS field of IP). Is it possible to formalize the technical specification in the NN debate itself (to be implemented by the routers)
Rajeev: No one benefits from zero rating..neither existing internet users or new ones. When companies talk of free internet, they mean ‘free to certain parts of the internet’ – ie they will through commercial agreements with certain players on the internet create islands that may seem free to the consumers. This alters structurally the nature of the internet and that is why its not desirable for anyone excepting for the operators that seek to be gatekeepers to the net. This is in essence the cabelization of the internet.
Internet is a public space with no owners and no market force that controls or influences consumer choice – the intranet is a private network owned by an entity and its therefore the manager of the intranet to determine the nature of access and content available on the intranet
Packets are created equally. But network management can prioritize packets – especially those designated by governments, Eg emergency services apps etc. But this prioritization ability cant be used to prioritze packets to and from any part of the net on commercial considerations. That becomes discrimnatory
Question: 1) What is your opinion on internet users being given access to a bunch of government related services for free? For ex – state governments can have bill pay mechanism which can be accessible by any user who has a mobile connection. Do you think this will also seriously go against the concept of net-neutrality?
2) In your opinion, do you think having a free and open internet will help get more people in our country on the internet compared to a service like internet.org or zero-rating? Especially in the case of low income families or individuals.
3) Some countries have made free internet a fundamental right of the citizen. How many years away do you think our country is to reach this?
Rajeev: I am in favour of prioritizing govt emergency or other services! That’s not a bad thing. But it should not be commercial services that compete with other private apps on the net. I have no problems with Internet.org as long as there is no commercial contract linked picking and choosing of what goes on it. That is a no-no if they do that. because then they will identical to Airtel’s zero rating
I think the supreme court has already ruled on Sec 66A that Internet has to be free and unfettered on the issue of free speech. I think given that we only have 200 million of Indians on line, making it a fundamental right will just be an empty promise or right! We need to get the Internet to all Indians and do that fast. Just see what will happen to to our governance, our politics and transparency if most Indians have access to the power of Internet and information
Also read from MediaNama: What MPs said on Net Neutrality in the Rajya Sabha