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Net neutrality: Freedom gets the click-through


Civil society organizations, startups, and many ordinary people have been aghast since word emerged that Flipkart and Airtel were working on a free data access programme even as Trai had invited public response on the issue of net neutrality. Startups and venture capitalists said there is nothing open about this arrangement and goes against innovation as the system unfairly gives preference to one firm over others.

The SavetheInternet.in coalition, an apolitical collective, said the timing of Airtel Zero showed little respect or even adopted a policy of forbearance during this period of consultation organized by TRAI. "We believe that this is unfortunate since it appears to be with a view towards consolidating violations of network neutrality as a norm," the organization said in a statement.

Karan Mohla, associate director and head of digital consumer investment at VC firm IDG Ventures, said that even from a capitalist perspective, the zero rating plan goes against innovation. "Consumers benefit, but they get pushed towards one set of publishers over others. We have put in capital in many firms and it hurts the smaller companies, which are trying to gain scale, by preferring bigger companies with the ability to pay," he added.

Paytm founder and CEO Vijay Shekhar Sharma said telecom players are national utilities and not a marketing platform to run such a programme. "The telecom infrastructure should be an open ecosystem.Telcos say they're giving full choice whereas they are inviting money to be paid for usage gradually," he said, adding that preferential pricing goes against innovation and would be disastrous for startups.

Sumit Jain, co-founder and CEO of property portal CommonFloor, noted that the internet had disrupted the world of business like no other technology and had enabled startups with little capital and clout to make a mark. "By rejecting net neutrality, we'll be shutting the door on the entrepreneurial aspirations of millions," he said. Ritesh Agarwal, CEO of Oyo Rooms, said net neutrality is essential for a free and competitive market. "The internet was created to break boundaries," he said.

Yogendra Vasupal, founder of accommodation marketplace Stayzilla, said Airtel Zero seems like an innovative solution to bring the internet to every person but the current way of individual companies buying internet for their consumers is a slippery slope.



Big internet companies like Makemytrip, Google and Facebook declined to comment for this story. Flipkart's competitor and e-commerce marketplace Snapdeal in a statement on Airtel Zero said: "We have no plans at this point (for free data plans for consumers), especially given that the regulatory framework is unclear."

However, Rajan S Mathews, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said a distinction needs to be made between zero rating and net neutrality . "The spectrum we have leased out from the government by paying thousands of crores has certain terms and conditions and we are not violating any of that under the zero rating plans. Let TRAI define net neutrality first and let us find a safeguard mechanism within that," he said.Rajan S Mathews, director general, Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), said a distinction needs to be made between zero rating and net neutrality . "The spectrum we have leased out from the government by paying thousands of crores has certain terms and conditions and we are not violating any of that under the zero rating plans. Let TRAI define net neutrality first and let us find a safeguard mechanism within that," he said.TRAI define net neutrality first and let us find a safeguard mechanism within that," he said.

How the world is plugged in

What is net neutrality?

Any device could connect to the internet as long as it followed a set of universal rules or Internet Protocol. Diverse technologies such as IBM mainframes and Apple PCs could speak to each other and any device — be it smartphones, internet-enabled TVs, home appliances and wristwatches — could also interconnect, leading to today's Internet of Things or IoT. It's possible because it was configured to only provide a connection between two compatible devices without favouring any particular industry, technology or service provider. This is the essence of neutrality of the internet - Gopal Saxena | Cyberlaw expert

Chile

Perhaps the first country to enact a net neutrality law in 2010. Interestingly, the law was a culmination of a citizen's movement, in particular the efforts of citizen group Neutralidad Si. In 2014, Chilean telecommunications regulator Subtel banned mobile operators from zero-rating, whereby internet companies strike deals with mobile telecom operators to offer consumers free internet usage

The Netherlands

The first country in Europe to pass a law on net neutrality in 2011. Later, the European Union is said to have adopted laws passed by The Netherlands in a bid to come out with a uniform telecommunications law for all countries part of the Union. Even zero-rating deals between internet companies and mobile operators have been banned as per the new law

Brazil

In 2014, Brazil passed a legislation bringing into effect an `Internet Law', which saw the introduction of the principle of Net Neutrality. As per an article published in the website http://www.lexology.com, Brazil's principle of Net Neutrality meant "that all data transmissions (i.e. online traffic) must be treated equally by network operators regardless of its content, origin, destination, service, terminal or application. The aim of this provision is to prevent operators from charging higher rates for accessing content that uses greater bandwidth, like video streaming or voice communication services"

USA

In February this year, the Federal Communications Commission laid down new rules on net neutrality.Under the new rules, as reported in http://www.cnet.com, internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are not allowed to block lawful content, slow down applications or services, or accept fees for favoured treatment
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