Net Neutrality: Govt for 'Non-Discriminatory Internet Access'

New Delhi
Net Neutrality: Govt for 'Non-Discriminatory Internet Access'
Net Neutrality: Govt for 'Non-Discriminatory Internet Access'
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+0553

Amid a raging debate over equal Internet access for all, the government today threw its weight behind "non-discriminatory internet access" and said an expert panel is looking into the 'net neutrality' issue.

Anti-trust watchdog CCI might also launch a probe into schemes launched by some telecom operators, including Airtel, Reliance Communications and Uninor, that claim to provide 'free' access to certain internet applications, even as the companies defended their stand saying these initiatives did not go against 'net neutrality'.

Social media platforms like Twitter continued to remain abuzz, as politicians, filmstars, start-ups and corporates joined the debate, while Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal also said there needs to be a debate on the issue.

Net neutrality implies equal treatment to all Internet traffic and any priority given to an application or company on payment basis is seen as violating the concept.

Telecom regulator TRAI, which last month floated a discussion paper on this, is also looking into the issue.

"Non discriminatory net availability is what we need to strive for," Telecom and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, while adding that an expert committee was looking into the matter and should submit its report within a month to help the government make an informed decision.

According to the Minister, Internet is one of the finest creations of the human mind and it is a property of the entire human race and not of any country or society.

"Internet to become entirely global should have a link to local and when we talk of digital inclusion it must be available to the underprivileged and on the margins," he said.

Sparking off the debate, telecom major Bharti Airtel launched its 'Airtel Zero' marketing platform -- where certain apps are available for free with charges borne by app makers.

Many free Internet advocates and start-ups feel that Airtel's platform could even "lead to monopolisation by a few and squeeze out the small companies".

Airtel itself has defended its move saying the initiative would be a 'win-win' for customers and marketers alike.

Coming out in support of initiatives like that of Airtel, e-commerce major Flipkart.Com's founder Sachin Bansal, tweeted, "when foreign companies do it in India - innovation. Indians do it - violation".

Prasad said that way back in January he had constituted a committee headed by senior government officials of the Telecom Ministry to submit a report on the whole gamut of net neutrality objective, its benefits, advantages and limitations including the regulatory and technical issues.

"I have asked them to give me a report by the second week of May after the widest consultation possible including online to help government come to an informed decision on this issue.

"Since I am awaiting these reports, it will not be proper for me to make any comment," he said.

Reflecting the large interest generated among people by the debate, the hashtag 'savetheinternet' has been trending on micro blogging site Twitter over the last few days.

Over one lakh netizens have already written to telecom regulator TRAI in support of net neutrality in the country. The watchdog had sought public's views on the issue, the last date for comments is April 24 and for counter ones is May 8.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal tweeted: "AAP committed to neutral internet. India MUST debate #NetNeutrality. I support #Saveinternet campaign."

After a video by comedy group AIB (explaining why net neutrality is essential for India) went viral on social networks, actors like Shah Rukh Khan and Kunal Kemmu, music composer Vishal Dadlani and Congress leader Digvijay Singh have also extended support through tweets.

The nine-minute video urged people to sign up against allowing telecom operators/internet service providers to choose the type, quantity or pricing of content for consumers.

Leading the voices of Bollywood, actor-director Farhan Akhtar has called for a campaign to 'save the Internet'.

Over the past few months, operators like Reliance Communications and Uninor have also tied up with players like Facebook, WhatsApp and Wikipedia to offer free usage to consumers, which has drawn flak from activists and consumers.

Zomato CEO Deepinder Goyal had also tweeted: "Couldn't have built Zomato if we had a competitor on something like Airtel Zero."

Country's largest e-commerce company Flipkart has come under flak, specially in social media, following reports suggesting they are joining the Airtel Zero app platform and Flipkart co-founder Sachin Bansal's tweets in defence of Airtel's Zero app marketing platform.

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