The Department of Telecommunication (DoT) today approved rules of net neutrality, which, in simple terms, ensures availability of free and equally accessible internet to all.
The new rules by the DoT prevent any internet service provider (ISP) from blocking, throttling, slowing down or granting any special treatment to any content available on the internet.
The telecom department’s landmark decision will have far-reaching consequences in India’s data spheres and is the result of tireless effort by the Indian internet users. Their years-long campaign for net neutrality in India finally came to fruition.
The Internet Activists
In 2015, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) published a paper on net neutrality, with possible internet regulations. It was a 118-page-long document and it came with heavy words and concepts that many did not understand.
Meanwhile, telecom giant Airtel had released a plan which would charge extra for internet calls and a platform called Airtel Zero, which would allow free usage of select apps. This is popularly known as zero-rating. Airtel was forced to cancel both these plans.
Platforms like Facebook’s FreeBasics was also banned in India in 2016, which provided free access to certain internet services in developing countries like India.
This is when the activists of the internet awoke and rallied users into supporting the net neutrality concept, by explaining the discrimination it would bring in the internet space through the example of these companies.
After decoding TRAI’s paper, experts and analysts also believed that the paper published by TRAI looked sympathetic to the telecom operators. It seemed like it could come up with a favourable outcome for the telecom companies and not the internet users. The paper said “strict network neutrality and no regulation – are inherently flawed. Banning all discrimination is over-inclusive”.
Almost immediately, the internet exploded with information about what net neutrality is and why it is important to every user. Since the discussion had already started in the US, it was possible that people would dismiss the issue deeming it foreign. Information was crucial and luckily, there were many to disseminate it.
Websites like savetheinternet.in and netneutrality.in were set up by activists of free internet who rolled out petitions for the public to sign. In less than a week, 8 lakh emails were sent to India’s telecom regulator, demanding a free and fair internet.
A video was uploaded by a leading comedy group, explaining what net neutrality is and why everyone should care about the subject. It got over 2.5 million hits in less than a week.
Major companies showed their support for a free and fair internet, saying discrimination could crumple local Indian companies and startups just entering the market.
Lakhs of petitions through social media, videos and news led to this landmark decision by the telecom department, and India’s rules could also be one of the world’s strongest and most progressive.
Back in the US, users are still fighting
The Obama administration had strongly advocated net neutrality rules in the US but in 2015, US telecom regulator Ajit Pai announced rolling back of those rules, which treated internet service providers like public utilities.
This is when the discussion started worldwide about what a free internet is, including in India. Despite enough public discourse and uproar over the last three years, the US repealed net neutrality rules in June. Activists are working tirelessly in the US to make their internet free and fair as well.