The India Story—What Does It Mean to Us?
On February 26, in a 3-2 vote, the American Federal Communications Commission voted to reclassify broadband internet access as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act, subject to tough new rules designed to preserve internet openness in the U.S. In April, the topic of internet neutrality ignited an internet war in India with internet users calling out the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in one of the biggest online protests seen in the country.
In March, we talked about the net neutrality verdict announced by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler protecting open internet in the U.S. Just a few weeks later, net neutrality is now the current burning topic in India for internet users. So while the debate rages on, we thought it might be worth continuing our discussion of net neutrality, this time from the Indian perspective.
In early April, Bharti Airtel announced their open marketing platform Airtel Zero, which will allow its customers to access “certain” mobile applications for free, with no data charges. The tech startup and developer communities, unsurprisingly, did not embrace the idea with open arms.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) received over 3000,000 emails from Indian citizens expressing their views via savetheinternet.in. The debate is on and internet users are making their voices heard. Netizens are out spreading the message and sharing their views on social media. A comedy group even came out with a video expressing their perspectives on their YouTube channel.
Meanwhile, Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal’s tweet expressing his support for Airtel Zero did not win him much appreciation.
The Current State of Net Neutrality in India
While the FCC’s verdict in the U.S. was a landmark victory for open internet proponents there (for the time being, at least), the current state of affairs regarding internet freedom may not be as regulated in India. This may pose a challenge in addressing the net neutrality issue in India. Excepted from a news post on ETCIO.com, here is a good summary of the current situation:
Legally, the concept of net neutrality doesn’t exist in India. Sunil Abraham, director of Centre for internet and Society in Bangalore, says that Trai, which regulates the telecom industry, has tried to come up with some rules regarding net neutrality several times. For example it invited comments on the concept of net neutrality from industry bodies and stakeholders in 2006. But no formal rules have been formed to uphold and enforce net neutrality.
However, despite lack of formal rules, ISPs in India mostly adhere to the principal of net neutrality. There have been some incidents where Indian ISPs have ignored net neutrality but these are few and far between.
Where Are We Headed?
For a start, following the backlash Flipkart faced after Sachin Bansal’s “initial” opinion on net neutrality hit Twitter, Flipkart announced they have walked away from their talks with Bharti Airtel about hopping on the Airtel Zero platform bandwagon.
The Indian contingent of net neutrality proponents are firm in their stand against a zero-rating platform as it would stifle innovation in a country that is ripe for new developments. However, advocates of the zero-rating platform argue that for a growing market, one which is aiming for greater internet penetration, this could be a critical resource.
For now, it seems there will be no bandwidth throttling and Flipkart won’t be the only eCommerce seller you can order gadgets and goodies from. Let’s be positive and hope that it will stay that way.