news Saturday, April 18, 2015 - 05:30
The man who invented the world wide web's Foundation is in the process of developing a response to the Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India's (TRAI) call for views on net neutrality.  In an email exchange with The News Minute, a spokesperson for the World Wide Web Foundation, which was established by Web inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee, has said they are keenly following the Net Neutrality debate in India and a response to the TRAI will soon be available. As a holding bay, the Web Foundation has drawn attention to a blog which was written by Sir Tim for the European Commission on the same subject. In particular, the spokesperson has highlighted some critical observations in the blog concluding that "... Imagine if a new start-up or service provider had to ask permission from or pay a fee to a competitor before they could attract customers? This sounds a lot like bribery or market abuse - but it is exactly the type of scenario we would see if we depart from net neutrality."  In the blog, Berners-Lee says that “we must ensure that companies providing access should not be able to block, throttle, or otherwise restrict legal content and services of their users online, be it for commercial or political motivation”.He has steadfastly maintained that the internet is an engine for growth - economic, social, intellectual - and any attempts to curb its use via market mechanisms is to strike at the heart of freedom to learn and access information. This was his message when the web turned 25 in 2014. In a similar vein, the SaveTheInternet.in coalition wrote a response to Zuckerberg in the Hindustan Times and said that “Zuckerberg’s ambitious project (seeks) to confuse hundreds of millions of emerging market users into thinking that Facebook and the Internet are one and the same”. SaveTheInternet coalition emerged in the context of Facebook’s announcement of a collaboration with Reliance and other telecom operators to launch internet.org, a service which seeks to provide free access to certain services while charging you for others. In a bid to counter criticism of such a move, Zuckerberg had a recent blog post, defended the initiative saying that he fully supported Net Neutrality, and that “Universal connectivity and net neutrality can and must co-exist." But both SaveTheInternet.in and Sir Lee seek to distinguish between the commercial interests of the internet service providers and other companies, and the freedom of people to access any kind of information without commercial restrictions. SaveTheInternet’s campaign along with criticism from all quarters has changed the position of companies which had lined up to participate in Airtel Zero and Internet.org platforms, both of which sought to offer packages of content at varying prices. For instance, questions were being raised about data charges on internet.org if, say, a user wanted access to Twitter, a service not available on the platform. The charges would indeed differ and critics say that it would give preference to one kind of content over another. Airtel’s Airtel Zero really got social media’s goat at a time when the TRAI had sent out a 118-page document asking for public opinion on the issue. After e-commerce giant Flipkart signed up with Airtel, users on social media publicly boycotted their applications. Pressure from social media and articles in newspapers in support of net neutrality forced Flipkart’s CEO Sachin Bansal to respond on Twitter. Soon, the company backed out of Airtel Zero, followed by Cleartrip, which posted a statement on its blog. Times Group issued a public statement on its blog, asking other publications and organizations in to keep the internet free and allow equal access to all by opting out of internet.org. Online aggregator News Hunt and English news channel NDTV responded by doing so, all voicing support for Net Neutrality. As small start-ups and bigwigs alike opted out of both platforms, a common consensus seems to have emerged in support of freedom of content over the prioritizing of information based on the telecom operator you were affiliated with. “If we don’t explicitly outlaw this, we hand immense power to telcos and online service operators. In effect, they can become gatekeepers - able to handpick winners and the losers in the market and to favour their own sites, services and platforms over those of others. This would crowd out competition and snuff out innovative new services before they even see the light of day”, says Berners-Lee in his post. And as a reminder of the fact that April 24 is the deadline for sending responses to TRAI, #6daystogo trends on Twitter.
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