More than a million Indians have come together in an attempt to ensure that internet services remain free of policies seen as favouring big telecom companies.
In one of the biggest online campaigns of recent times, Indians have given a verdict in favour of net neutrality after the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) sought peoples’ feedback last month.
TRAI sought to know whether any service or application provided online like messaging and voice services, e-commerce sites and apps content should be regulated and whether consumers should not just pay for data but also access to certain websites and services.
TRAI set a deadline of April 24 and, within days, was receiving 50 emails per minute.
Thank you to everyone who made this possible. Long way to go. With you we’ll #SaveTheInternet . http://t.co/atNByduOJ2 pic.twitter.com/eJBwFJyA9x
— Net Neutrality India (@neutrality_in) April 23, 2015
Thirty-four year old Nikhil Pahwa, founder and editor of medianama.com, came together with 50 other people of various backgrounds to launch an online campaign against whats he calls the rich corporate telecom behemoths.
The campaign was based on the idea of internet as a level playing field accessible to all, where it’s seen as a utility and its freedom is protected.
“There’s been a response by ordinary netizens against handing over the power to telecom companies. History has been made, never before has a government consultation received a million response,” Pahwa told Al Jazeera.
Through social media platforms such as Reddit India and Twitter more users pitched in to decode and simplify the 118 page long government discussion paper. Anonymous users helped the team to create FAQs for users.
Karthik Balakrishnan, a 22-year-old undergraduate engineering student from IT city of Bangalore, built a website which simplified feedback process.
The process of submitting responses to the TRAI discussion document was made easily accessible with just a click of a button further promoted by an online video which went viral with more than 2.6 million views in just over 10 days.
“We are a group of individuals who have come together to fight for a common cause. We’ve paid for everything out of our own pockets. We all live in different cities, most of us have never met each other. Yet somehow we have run this completely remotely over the internet,” Balakrishnan told Al Jazeera.
More than 50 academicians of the country’s premier technology and science institutes also backed the movement for net neutrality saying it is essential to the idea of the internet.
According to the Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMI), there are 302 million internet users in the country of which close to 180 million access the internet on their cellphones. The Indian e-commerce market according to some estimates will be close to $22 billion this year, the stakes as many point out are high.
“If you look at the consultation papers by TRAI, there seems to be a tendency towards regulating the sector. Eventually it will affect the startups because they don’t have money to pay the licensing fee and that will affect innovation and entrepreneurship in India,” Nilotpal Chakravarti, Associate Vice President of IAMI, told Al Jazeera.
For the Telecom companies the debate is about cost rationality and the threat of increasing competition from internet companies.
They insist that the cost of building the infrastructure and services such as Whatsapp, imessaging and viber eating into their voice and SMS revenues, prices need to be justified by charging users.
But their claim is disputed by supporters of net neutrality who say Indian mobile companies have been increasingly making profit on data and that time has now come to reinvent their business model.
Technology is disruptive; coping with rapid change only way out for telecom. Social media firms redefining user experience. #NetNeutrality
— Sanjay Jha (@JhaSanjay) April 23, 2015
India has the slowest internet speed in Asia Pacific after Indonesia with a speed of 2.0 mbps less than global average of 4.5 mbps.
The Indian government, which last year launched its Digital India campaign has promised high speed internet in all rural areas, has said that the final decision does not rest with TRAI and is committed to providing internet to all.
The debate continues as campaigners have asked the government to stop telecom companies from violating net neutrality.