The NITI Aayog’s three-year (2017-18 to 2019-20) action agenda is right in pointing out that the government must take up the formulation of a clear policy on net neutrality on a priority basis.
While the NITI Aayog’s prescription in the three-year (2017-18 to 2019-20) action agenda for the government, of finding ways to tax the agriculture income of the non-agricultural entities, that leads to accumulation of black money, has led to a huge controversy forcing finance ministry Arun Jaitley to clarify there is no plan to tax agriculture income; another major debate that NITI wants to be resolved is that of ‘net neutrality’.
It has pointed out: “Differential pricing for data services has been a controversial topic in India over the past two years. While there are no laws enforcing net neutrality—or equal pricing for all data services—The Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRAI) of India promotes it.”
Given the trade-off that net neutrality presents between promoting competition and the need to provide everyone access to data services, NITI is right in stressing that the government must prioritize the resolution of this debate and come out with a clear policy on net neutrality, which saw fierce battle being fought in the telecom domain earlier before TRAI could enforce its writ.
But, this is clearly a temporary truce and the government will have to find better ways to deal with this critical issue.
“There are creative ways to marry net neutrality with free or low-price access to the Internet,” NITI Aayog has said in the three-year action agenda to improve digital connectivity in the country.
The bigger challenge though for the government is to improve the digital connectivity infrastructure in the rural areas.
Even the government action agenda, says that, “While rural residents accounted for 68% of India’s population in 2011, they made up 73% of the offline population. The high cost of internet services deters many low-income households from accessing the Internet”.
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For a significant change here, access to electricity, increase in the mobile network penetration and affordable data plans, are a must—something that has already been sparked by RJio’s entry.
NITI has also suggested that, “Keeping regulatory barriers to the minimum necessary would lead to healthy competition in the mobile sector driving down the costs of devices and data plans”.
This will, however, depend upon the telecom companies’ ability to invest in enhancing the reach of the digital infrastructure, which is currently standing on a shaky ground thanks to their stressed balance sheets and intense competition.
The government obviously will have to play a helping role if it wants to bridge the gap between the need and the availability in a speedy manner.