Net Neutrality: Bottom-up Perspectives

A consultation was organised to discuss broad topics under the rubric of “Net Neutrality”, and particularly the consultation paper on "Regulatory framework for OTT Services" recently released by TRAI, on 22 April 2015 at Thiruvananthapuram. The Consultation was organized by the International Centre for Free and Open Source Software (ICFOSS), jointly with SFLC.in, IEEE Kerala Section, Internet Society - Trivandrum Chapter (ISOC-TRV), and Swathanthra Malayalam Computing (SMC). 

The Participants agreed that a Free and Open Internet was necessary for its continued use in the diverse forms that it is being used today; and that in order to preserve the freedom, openness and transparency of the Internet, it is important that discrimination of any sort should be avoided at the infrastructure level.

In this context, Participants examined two major issues:

  1. Regulation of Internet services and Communication Services
  2. Net-neutrality

The meeting discussed the desirability of Internet services being brought under a licensing regime. It was pointed out that a licensing regime of Internet services could result in a level playing field being denied to startups and smaller players besides individual users. It was also stressed that such a scheme will result in a license Raj. It was remarked that the Internet Services and communication services are bound by laws ranging from the Indian Penal Code to the taxation laws and the Consumer Protection Act. More regulations and licensing will only result in innovation and enterprise being stifled.

The participants expressed support for the principles of net-neutrality. Net-neutrality was explained to be the availability of a free and open Internet without discrimination to any service or application. There should also be no throttling of speeds or blocking of content by the Telecom Service Providers. Any traffic management exercised by the Telecom Service Providers should be transparent and should not be discriminatory as to services and applications. The absence of net neutrality could result in violation of freedom of speech as well as the privacy rights of citizens, thus undermining the very fabric of democracy. It was also pointed out that techniques like Deep Packet Inspection will have to be used by Telecom Service Providers to analyze packets, and this will adversely affect the privacy of users and confidentiality of their data as well.

Participants also expressed reservations about the practice of zero rating. It was pointed out that services like Internet.org launched by Facebook along with Reliance, and Airtel Zero introduced by Airtel, will be detrimental to the interests of Internet users and startups. Such services, where only a limited bouquet of websites will be made available, will be detrimental to competition and adversely affect startups. These will result in end users being denied choice. Further, technology innovation, including mainstream movements such as Free and Open Source Software (FOSS)— which presupposes the availability of a free and open Internet—will be impacted adversely under non-neutral regimes.

The meeting urged TRAI to recommend the introduction of regulations that would protect the interests of Internet Users by mandating the Telecom Service Providers to strictly adhere to the principles of Net Neutrality. This will ensure a free and open Internet in India enabling true innovation and enterprise to thrive resulting in the success of the "Digital India" and "Make in India" initiatives of the Government of India.

Participants also recommended that the broader issues of Internet Governance, in which Net Neutrality was one component, required better engagement and participation from Civil Society to ensure that the voices from the grassroots users were also taken into account into the Governance of the Internet.