Net neutrality

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The Telecom Commission’s approval to the recommendations of the Telecom Regularity Authority of India (TRAI) on Internet neutrality will have long term and far reaching consequences in helping secure the rights of the Internet users in the country. The Telecom Commission’s step will also help the Internet users in having free access to the digital data available on the world web besides maintaining access without any licence from the private companies that have been trying to weed out the users, who will not be their subscribers. By endorsing these steps that call for amendments to access services licences for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Telecom Operators, the Telecom Commission has made it clear that any violation of net neutrality will be treated as a violation of the licence conditions. The Telecom Commission has said that some specialised and emerging services such as Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) may be exempt from the non-discriminatory principles, but these cannot be at the cost of the overall quality of Internet access. By such regulations, the private operators will be forced to maintain high quality of all the services for the subscribers across the board without any discrimination whether the users are their users or not. By such decisions and regulations, India will be leading the countries by having strongest Internet neutrality regulations in the world. The Telecom Commission has also paved the way for other countries to follow suit and secure the rights of their users so far as Internet is concerned. Combining this approval with the fact that TRAI had barred telecom service providers from charging differential rates for data services, India will now have among the strongest net neutrality regulations, which can be applied in some other countries where the poor cannot be bereft of the data usage for their own benefits. This is as it should be for all the users and for all the companies that are operating in the country. Net neutrality is the basic principle of an open Internet that does not allow for content discrimination by ISPs. The user is free to access any web location at the same paid-for speed without any discrimination by the ISP. This provision has helped democratise the Internet and undergird its growth from a networked system of computers that enabled e-commerce, social interaction, knowledge flow and entertainment, among other functions. Internet pioneers have been maintaining consistently that the principle of net neutrality is built into the structure of the Internet itself. The layers and protocols for connectivity via the network have been erected in such a way that access is seamless irrespective of the nature of the physical infrastructure of the network. It is to the credit of the Telecom Commission and TRAI that this principle has been upheld in India – in contrast, in the US, on President Donald Trump’s watch, the Federal Communications Commission repealed net neutrality regulations that had been put in place by the Barack Obama administration. The repeal was ostensibly to allow ISPs and broadband providers to invest in new technology although evidence shows that such investment was not affected by the regulations. The other argument for the repeal has been a functional one, suggesting that the Internet is very different today, controlled by a handful of big companies, unlike the much more egalitarian environment earlier; and that therefore, the principle is redundant now. In India, for instance, the steep growth in Internet access and use has allowed for newer services to thrive. Some of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have been supportive of the idea of maintaining internet neutrality because they also want to grow like other corporate houses which want to build captive platforms, which may deny an access to newer entrants to this field. Somehow, the newer models are designed to garner and build bigger audiences and more readers of their portals in the free market regime. Under these challenges from the monopolistic tendencies, the people are also warned against such attempts aimed at scuttling the internet neutrality which provided free access to new and existing users. The government should now ensure that net neutrality is followed in practice.