At last count on Sunday, the responses to the report on the mygov.in portal were 52,172, a far cry from around 700 comments posted on August 14, and increasing by the minute. The deadline for submitting comments has been extended to August 20 from August 15. Net neutrality is a principle that guarantees consumers equal and non-discriminatory access to all data, apps and services on internet, with no discrimination on basis of tariffs or speed.
“It is important to participate because a lot of confusion has been created around the definition of net neutrality. No specific/particular content under the garb of ‘access for all’ should have competitive advantage over other content,” said Nikhil Pahwa, the founder of Delhi-based online portal Medianama and the prime mover behind the net neutrality campaign.
The government had placed the report of the panel set up by telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on net neutrality for public viewing and comments on the mygov website. The government, which has repeatedly backed net neutrality publicly, will firm up regulation on the much-debated subject after considering public opinion and the views of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).
“We don’t want net neutrality to be defined by telecom companies…We want to be able to access anything, at any time, without having to pay more for it separately,” commented Prajwal Kumar. “We don’t want licensing for Whatsapp, Viber, Skype or any other VOIP applications.”
Sandeep Kumar, another netizen, wanted the internet to be a place which was free and accessible at any time by anyone.
“It’s (the internet) best left untouched. Don’t kill new innovation. Like the Prime Minister rightly said, let’s start up and stand up. For that leave internet free and fair,” he added.
The telecom department panel has batted for an open and unregulated regime for several over the top (OTT) services but proposed regulating local and national calls over VoIP (voice over internet) apps such as WhatsApp and Skype, a move that would result in consumers paying for them, possibly making them as expensive as calls made on mobile.
“Domestic OTT voice communication services should not be licensed. VoIP services cannot realistically serve as substitutes for traditional PSTN services, and are seen as secondary services in adjunction to PSTN,” said Prasanth Sugathan of SFLC.in, a not-for-profit organization for legal services working to protect civil liberties in the digital world.
“Moreover, OTTs do not own telecom infrastructure such as network cables and spectrum. Licensing in such a scenario will create regulatory encumbrances in the free market, discouraging new entrants,” he added.
The DoT panel has also said no tariff plan which allows blocking, throttling and prioritization of content should be permitted. But it has left it to the TRAI to decide whether any tariff plan, including the controversial zero rating plan, violates the principles of net neutrality. Controversially, it has proposed a ‘deemed approval clause’, if the regulator does not decide within reasonable period of time. Complaints on tariff plans will be dealt with on a case by case basis through an adjudicatory process to be specified by the regulator.
“Zero-rated services must not be treated merely as tariff arrangements, and must be prohibited across the board. All zero-rated services will invariably act as gatekeepers to the internet, impacting healthy competition,” Sugathan said.
TRAI in April had received over a million comments on its paper over net neutrality with majority demanding implementation of a free internet. The new TRAI chairman RS Sharma has said that the regulator will bring out recommendations on the subject in two to three months.