Net Neutrality no more?

Net neutrality has been making waves for some time now. But I, an ignorant internet user, brushed it aside casually thinking this must be another of trivial issues cropping up daily on the internet. What do I have to do with it till it affect me? However recently, when the news was almost everywhere it was too hard for me to disregard this piece of burning topic. That is when I realized how gravely it affects me. Not just the entrepreneurs or a businessman, anybody who uses web is a stakeholder.
Infringements on our cyber freedom are a norm, especially in a country like India. Not long ago a documentary by a British filmmaker was banned from TV broadcasting and subsequently taken down on YouTube by the Indian government. The reason stated was that it portrayed our country in a bad light and probably hurt the economic and cultural relations with our brethren in the world. Coming home, time and again, content has been banned, taken off the internet and in extreme cases innocent civilians are being jailed for posting ‘offensive’ content online. A mere like/upvote on some random post on a social media site could land you in prison for hurting Mr.X’s sentiments. Reason being Mr. X has greater power and political connections than you do. Indian government achieved a breakthrough recently when it turned down article 66A of the IT Act deeming it as inappropriate and irrelevant. For a democratic country like ours, the very existence of such a law was regressive. It was a moment of change and revolution for the netizens. There was a renewed sense of freedom and rigor which was lacking earlier. However, the striking down of the article came with its caveats. The government, at any time, had the liberty to ban/take down material it found offensive. So much for the freedom of expression!!
Net neutrality is basically freedom to use the internet. It gives any web user to use the internet as he/she may want to. Read content, write online, watch videos or make a call, be assured you are being charged same for equal volume of data consumed. However, most recently a proposal has come up opposing net neutrality. The proposal converts internet from a utility to a luxury. What is suggests is that there be different rates for different website and the charges be different for different types of data consumed. This not only makes internet significantly expensive but also is a step towards restricting it to the elites. In a country where electricity is still considered a luxury in remote corner, internet has not even been heard of. For the semi-urban and urban population, internet has become an integral part. It is for this population that the reach is being limited within a boundary. The utility of internet cannot be stated for any defined number of purposes. Anything from research to lectures to social media and advertisements are largely based out of the World Wide Web. Internet penetration in India is still a small percentage as compared to other developed and developing countries. However, what makes it significant is its rapid growth across regions. This is one of the parameters defining innovation and growth. At such a time, a law opposing Net Neutrality comes as regressive and deterrent to growth. It shatters the common man’s belief in the government. When the govt. elected by the people, for the people and to the people, supports the vested interest of some service providers, it defeats the entire purpose of its formation.
Why should telecom service providers decide what we read or where we buy from on the internet? To me the idea is absurd. It is making a luxury out of a utility. By increasing charge rate, they are alienating a commodity which belongs to the masses. The idea that equal charges be applied to for each volume of data is self-sufficient. How does the govt. plan to implement its Digital India campaign, if it is limiting the digital world to only the rich? How does the Smart India initiative turn into success if the very ingredient of smartness is restricted only to the class who can afford it? Why the plan to integrate India does include only the corporates and bereft the poor of much needed services?
India’s largest service provider Airtel has come up with an app called Airtel Zero. It is a zero rating app which is a collection of apps available for free to the public. That is, anybody who buys Airtel zero doesn’t have to pay for browsing on those particular set of website. However, what it slyly does it zone out the remaining set of website. It keeps the competitors out, which not only forces you to choose only the select sites and reduces choices but also gives them the power to manipulate prices according to their whims and fancies. We are going from an open internet to a closed one. We do not have the choice anymore to pick, choose or compare websites to decide which offers us the best. In a bid to save bandwidth, we are left at the mercy of our service providers. Ecommerce giant Flipkart faced huge flak from the public for opposing net neutrality. The result is Flipkart doing a volte-face on its stand. It now supports net neutrality.
It comes as no surprise that Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the founding director of the World Wide Web, opened up the internet for all of us. He could have chosen to sell the internet to select few companies and made billions. However, what distinguishes such men from the money hoarding machines is their prudence and ability to think beyond personal gains. It was his foresight which made him see that for the world to grow and develop, internet should be freely available to anybody and everybody. A key proponent of the Net Neutrality, he firmly believes that each packet of data be treated equally. And that there should be no restrictions based on economic motivations. A packet of data – an email, a webpage or a video call – should be treated the same no matter whether it is sent by a small NGO in Ljubljana or a FTSE 100 company in London. When a man of such stature says that, it weighs heavier than the entire population of web users.

April 24 is the last date for writing to the TRAI to stop this mass closing of services. Go out, support Save The Internet campaign to protect your web. Huge support has been pouring in already. It’s your time to do your bit.
Its NOW or NEVER!!

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