The tremendous pressures and pulls so far built up within India and most parts of the world to bring the internet within some regulations met with a resistance when the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has made a fundamental recommendation upholding the primary principle of allowing the Internet to remain unregulated.

Being regulated is unthinkable and TRAI had not only to battle the global headwinds, there must have been considerable pressure from the existing telecom companies as well: the US, the initiator of the whole business of the Internet, is planning to abolish net neutrality; at home, telecom companies did represent to the TRAI against net neutrality.

But the TRAI withstood the global trends as well as domestic pressure because its charter advises consultations with all stake holders, including consumers and activists. This stipulation ensured an outpouring of support for net neutrality which the TRAI could hardly have brushed aside.

Currently, India enjoys complete net neutrality. This means that no Internet provider can block a website or offer a few select websites for free while charging fees for surfing their rivals. If the tariff plan encounters resistance, another favoured tactic is to slow down the speed for accessing websites of rivals.

Net neutrality, however, is not an unalloyed devil. For the income-challenged, the offer of a low Internet pack is attractive even if it means that the consumer can access only specific sites offered by the Internet provider. Bharti and Facebook earned the ire of the consumers when they tried to float the concept.

However, the net is more than a question of costs. It is a major source for information and social interaction for many. The potential for abuse is obvious: companies can set terms (usually a higher fee) for the inclusion of any service.

Or they can have disincentives in the form of slow speed. The principle of freedom to choose is violated in both instances. The TRAI has given leeway to companies with content delivery networks. This could set off intense lobbying by those that do not have this provision.

The onus is on the government to accept TRAI’s recommendation and announce an implementation date. The activists have won the first skirmish, but will have to remain vigilant against dilution of their hard-fought victory. – The North Lines


 

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