What do you understand by Net neutrality? Critically comment on TRAI’s recent recommendations on net neutrality? (200 W/12 ½ M)

Mentor’s Comment:

Explain about Net-Neutrality in simple terms.

Mention how this debate sparked in India and what if Net Neutrality wasn’t there. Mention the recent order of TRAI and Telecom Commissions Acceptance on TRAI rule.

Further, bring the criticism of the TRAI’s decisions. Waste of bandwidth resources, certain services with high quality of service demand like VoIP need high bandwidth of efficient functioning of net, need to differentiate between essential and luxury or entertainment content, problems of differential pricing etc.

 

Model Answer:

Net-Neutrality- In Simple Terms:

  • Internet is now the primary medium for information sharing and communication for citizens, Governments and businesses globally.
  • This has become possible because, once a fee pay to an ISP such as Airtel, Vodafone or Idea for accessing their data services, one can get  free to access any content on the Web, without any price or content discrimination.
  • This is the underlying principle of net neutrality. In simple terms, it means that users should have neutral access to all lawful content and applications on the internet, regardless of the source, without the government or ISPs influencing your choices through pricing or selective access.

What if Net Neutrality wasn’t there?

  • Without specific net neutrality regulations, ISPs can block or slow down internet speeds for select sites, or provide preferential treatment to certain content providers over others.
  • For instance, a telecom operator can enter into an agreement with a company and allow faster access to its website compared to others, or bar the entry of new players in that particular area. But laws upholding net neutrality prevent this.

How Net Neutrality debate sparked in India:

  • The debate actually sparked off about a couple of years back when social media giant Facebook launched Free Basics (earlier known as internet.org) in December 2015. Just a few months before this telecom major Bharti Airtel had launched ‘Airtel Zero’. In February 2016, Trai would ban both these projects.

Recent TRAI order on Net Neutrality:

  • Telecom Commission has accepted the recommendations made by regulatory body TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Association of India)
  • The telecom regulator has ruled that if a service provider is found violating the regulation, there will be a penalty of Rs 50,000 for each day of contravention, subject to a maximum of Rs 50 Lakhs.
  • TRAI’s order has supported the principle of the open Internet, and says that differential data pricing might “reduce the network effects associated with Internet as the usage of the broad Internet as it exists may go down.”
  • The TRAI order ends the debate on the issue by prohibiting all such data services which provided access to some websites for free.
  • The focal point of the order is this: TSPs or service providers can’t charge differently for data services based on content. Nor can they enter into any arrangement or contract for allowing such discriminatory tariffs for data.

What does the Telecom Commission’s acceptance of Net Neutrality rules for India mean?

  • It means is that ISP or internet provider cannot charge extra for say watching videos on Netflix at a high-speed. The rules bar ISPs from creating high-speed data lanes, or charging extra for viewing certain kind of content on the web.
  • It also means that zero-rating packages like says a Facebook Free Basics, where certain content is provided for free like access to Facebook, also remain illegal in India.
  • The recommendations had also noted, “The use of Internet should be facilitated in such a manner that it advances the free speech rights of citizens, by ensuring plurality and diversity of views, opinions, and ideas.”

Criticism of the decision:

  • Not everyone is in favour of net neutrality. There are some valid arguments which favour shunning it. It prevents wastage of resources, prevents clogging of bandwidth for non essential services, may help in cross-subsiding the access to internet and provide empowering experience to millions who are without it.
  • Bandwidth resources are wasted by transmitting unwanted high bandwidth consuming multimedia rich data or information like advertisements. By blocking such content by ISP optimal utilization of resources can be done. For this either standards has to be defined or internal checks on data should be done.
  • Certain services with high QoS (Quality of Service) demand, like VoIP need high bandwidth for efficient functioning. Without providing preferential treatment for them these will not be successful because of limited bandwidth availability which is always clogged.
  • There is a need to differentiate between essential and luxury or entertainment content. Services related to e-governance or news etc should be given preference over high definition video songs or VoIP. Such entertainment services can be charged at higher rates.
  • Through differential pricing and zero rating more people can be brought to the fold of internet. By not allowing this certain section of society who are poor are discriminated against and prevented from having life changing experience of internet.
  • Government in India is having differential pricing for many other services and goods like foodgrains. Why not for internet?
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