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Significance: Recently, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India has backed the basic principles of an open and free internet in its recommendations on net neutrality. It barred telecom service providers from charging differential rates for data services.

Definition of Net neutrality: The principle that Internet service providers should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites.

To understand the concept of net neutrality, it is best suited to compare it with daily life items.Suppose you are travelling in an aeroplane, you will be able to observe different classes of passengers in the same aeroplane ravelling in business class, first class and economy class. Without net neutrality, you will be faced with similar issues as well. You may be having a different level of restrictions and privileges within the same network according to the price you paid for the services.

The situation of net neutrality can also be understood from comparisons between a phone company and cable TV. The Internet we have now is the phone company, which doesn’t control what content is carried over its wires. What we could end up with is the Internet as cable TV company, which controls content as well as access.

Guidelines of TRAI: 

  • The service providers should be restricted from entering any agreement or contract that has the effect of discriminatory treatment based on content, sender or receiver, protocols or user equipment.
  • The scope of the proposed principles on non-discriminatory treatment applies specifically to Internet Access Services.
  • Specialised Services, i.e. other than Internet Access Services, optimised for specific content, protocols or user equipment shall be exempted from the principles of discriminatory treatment.
  • Internet of Things is not excluded from the scope of restrictions on non-discriminatory treatment.However, critical IoT services as identified by DoT which satisfy specialised services would be automatically excluded.

When the debate arose?

Internet.org was launched by Facebook and six companies to bring affordable access to SELECTED Internet services to less developed countries by increasing efficiency, and facilitating the development of new business models around the provision of Internet access. The app delivering these services were termed as Free Basics.

Also, Airtel launched ‘Airtel Zero,’ a platform through which it will offer users free access to certain mobile apps. These apps will be from developers who have signed up with the company.However, it violates the principles of net neutrality as the company will offer an advantage to certain players in terms of cost of access and will even promote them.

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI)  barred telecom service providers from charging differential rates for data services, effectively prohibiting Facebook’s Free Basics and Airtel Zero platform by Airtel in their current form.

Why the debate about Net Neutrality matters? 

Net neutrality creates rules of the road for a free and open Internet. It requires that barriers should not be created by telecom and Internet service providers for user choice by limiting their power to discriminate between content providers and different classes of content.

 The power of access providers to selectively price or create technical imbalances between the users is hotly debated. This age relates to a technical revolution with more and more digital connections growing day by day and there are several flagship schemes like that of Digital India which need equal access to internet. If net neutrality is not maintained, several people may be excluded from the benefits of digital revolution.

The Internet today affords millions of Indians with an immediate audience without the traditional costs of distribution.Being restricted for different services affect the liberty, equality of the citizens using internet. It would impact both the right to speak and the ability to receive knowledge, hence impacting our right to freedom of speech and expression.

The unequal access to internet would drag back the economic development of the nation as a whole. Equal access will definitely accelerate interventions in banking, commerce, agriculture, distribution, retailing and e-governance, whose cumulative benefit far outweighs the gains in infrastructure expected from an unequal internet.Therefore, advocacy for net neutrality remains high.

Conclusion: For a developing country like India, the internet is a leveling platform by bridging the information and communication gap. It also delivers quality communications to the rural parts of the country, driving information, education and health services seamlessly all over the country and helping the undeserved to connect with government and the financial system.Hence, net neutrality has to remain protected and intact for the benefit of individual and nation.