If you’ve been following the Net Neutrality debate in India, it would appear divided into two camps. You are either for Net Neutrality or against, the latter stand hyphenating you with the telecom operators. There is no room for a middle ground.
But as a debate held by the Financial Express and FICCI, titled ‘Decoding Net Neutrality’ at the India Habitat Centre, showed, the issue is too complicated to be coloured in black and white.
Here are different voices from the debate:
Ankhi Das, Facebook’s head of public policy for South and Central Asia, pointed out that Internet.org is concerned it is not an exclusive tie-up with Reliance and rather all operators can join the service. “It’s free, no one has to pay to join the app. Internet.org app is about promoting Internet literacy among India’s various users,” she said, adding that the app could co-exist with Net Neutrality as it was not discriminating against any particular service.
Watch video: It’s free, no one has to pay to join the app, says Ankhi Das, Facebook India, on internet.org
Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, who has also written a letter to Ravi Shankar Prasad on the issue and has come out in support of Net Neutrality, said one can’t ignore the issue of consumer interests. “It is being made out that Net Neutrality is a Utopian or philosophical idea. It’s not. Telecos are not the Internet, but a way of access to the Internet. Telecos want to gate-keep the Internet, which is wrong. The specific power of network providers need to be regulated and they must have zero power to decide what succeeds,” he said.
Rajan Mathews, Director General for the Cellular Operators’ Association of India, came out in defence of the telecos and pointed out that the while they were for Net Neutrality, one also needed similar regulation for the same kind of services. “We are offering customers a choice. As long as it doesn’t distort competition, it is not anti-competitive,” he said. Mathews pointed out that while the telecos were subjected to heavy regulation and even had to share revenue with the government, OTT players which are offering similar services like Voice-Calls, Messaging, etc didn’t face the same regulations.
Telecomm consultant and Com First director Dr Mahesh Uppal pointed out that while market abuse is not acceptable to anyone, where Net Neutrality is concerned, the problem is compounded in India by burdensome regulation on Voice-calling, SMS and not of VOIP. “There is no clarity on what Net Neutrality really means. The US approach to Net Neutrality is quite different. In India, it is still very early days to have a rigid approach,” he said. He said India has primarily relied on a wireless network and there is limit to how much traffic it will hold. “At some point, regulation to manage this network isn’t entirely unimaginable.”
Lok Sabha MP Baijayant Jay Panda stood firmly for Net Neutrality and said legislation should only ensure a level playing field. He said zero-rating apps introduce a kind of fragmentation. “Internet isn’t just WhatsApp or Skype but rather has come up on the egalitarian principle that a packet is a packet is a packet. There should be no prioritisation of one brand over another when it comes to the Internet or any sort of fragmentation,” said the BJD MP from Odisha. He added a “walled garden” style of Internet will alter the nature of the medium. But Panda added the government, which has for long been behind the curve on the issue, had to do its fair bit to increase internet access in the country.
Watch video: There should be no prioritisation of one brand over another, says Baijayant Jay Panda on Net Neutrality
Rajat Kathuria, Director and Chief Executive at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), New Delhi, however pointed out that Net Neutrality could not be discussed in isolation. “What happens when there is congestion of a network? Price differentiation or discrimination is a possible solution in such a scenario,” he said, adding that that price differentiation can take place between different kinds of services offered, say from B2B or those which are B2C.
Watch video: Rajat Kathuria, Director and Chief Executive, ICRIER on the whole debate around Net Neutrality
Pranesh Prakash, Director for Policy at the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society, pointed out that Net Neutrality is the regulation that the gatekeepers of the Internet don’t unjustly use their unique power to weaken the nature of the Internet. He said the goal of any regulation should be to provide “universal affordable access, affective competitive market, protect the consumer interest and ensure that the diversity of the Internet doesn’t get lost.” As an example he said the December scheme of Airtel charging extra for VOIP calls was clearly discriminatory and in violation of Net Neutrality.
Subho Ray, president of the Internet and Mobile Association of India, also came out to support Net Neutrality saying violation of the principle for commercial privileges was just wrong. He said net neutrality was a simple concept and that all OTTs are the same. “There should be no blocking, throttling and preferential treatment.”