Features Thursday, April 02, 2015 - 05:30
The News Minute | April 1, 2015 | 05:59 pm IST With the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India releasing a consultation paper on formulating regulations for internet data services provided by telecom companies, several key policy experts and industry observers have called for a policy regime which allows ‘net neutrality’. The TRAI has also sought inputs from various stakeholders and citizens before formulating the policy. So what is this all about? We asked Sandeep Pillai and Rishab Bailey at www.netneutrality.in to help us understand better. Simply put, "net neutrality" is the way we use internet today. Say you have a broadband connection of 1mbps from BSNL for Rs 500. You can use your internet for accessing practically anything on the internet, be it videos, apps, voice services, search engines or email. WhatsApp is accessible the same way Google is, there is no difference in quality or cost within the same internet service provider’s network. That’s net neutrality. If the suggestions in the TRAI consultation paper become policy, then effectively you give away your rights to your internet service provider to decide what, how and when you can access any particular material or service. The provider can charge you more for WhatsApp, or decide not to give you access at all. Since videos use more data, the ISP could ask either the content producer, like YouTube, or you the consumer, to shell out more for using it. But here the question arises: Don’t telecom companies have the right to price their products? Yes, they do. They are already doing that. Pro-net neutrality activists are not protesting against telecom operators’ right to charge high prices for data service. What they are against is the attempt by telecom companies and the regulator to define internet under a licensing regime as it does other telecom services, by which they can charge different prices for different services and content. However, supporters of net-neutrality are against ‘zero-rating’, which is providing a service for free. For example, Reliance Communications in partnership with Facebook is providing free access to the social network. While this doesn’t affect the consumer’s choice immediately, it is argued that over the long term the consumer will be conditioned to prefer free sites over ones which have to be paid for. So how does this affect you and me?  Internet services will be similar to DTH TV services. On DTH services you can buy a basic pack but for specific channels you need to pay extra. This is the way internet would become if this policy is implemented. While buying your internet pack you will have to choose the services you need access to, and pay accordingly. Telecom company can change the pricing or access-speed ad-hoc the very next month and you might have to change your choices accordingly. Every service, like Google, Youtube, Yahoo, WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter could be made payable separately. Such a regime would affect businesses and start-ups too. Big, rich companies like Google or Facebook can tie up with different operators. The operators could then choke the access to smaller competitors and start-ups which they see as threats to their business. This could be the end of disruptive innovation. There already are signs of this happening in India. Read this report (http://www.medianama.com/2014/12/223-airtel-net-neutrality-ogle-throttling/) by Nikhil Pahwa on what happened with Indian streaming media start-up Ogle. The new regime could affect our freedom of speech too. If the government does not like what you are writing, they could just force the telecom operator to throttle the access to your site, since under the new policy it will be perfectly legal for a telecom operator to do so. Some believe that the new regime will give further freedom to telecom operators to use Deep Packet Inspection (and filtering), which enables advanced network management, user service, and security functions as well as internet data mining, eavesdropping, and internet censorship. Although DPI technology has been used for Internet management for many years, some advocates of net neutrality fear that the technology may be used to monopolize the market or to reduce the openness of the Internet. Do you think this must be stopped? Visit www.netneutrality.in to know more, and sign the petition here .You can also send your policy inputs or protests to TRAI at advqos@trai.gov.in. Sandeep Pillai is a software professional based in Kerala and writes for www.netneutrality.in, operated by Ishan Sharma. Rishab Bailey is a practicing lawyer working in areas of intellectual property, technology and communication. Tweet Follow @thenewsminute

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