Why Should We Ensure Net Neutrality in Cyber World?
Till a few days ago, there has not been a single case reported on the discrimination or differential charging on the service given out to different people. Hence, the cyber space in India was reflecting the working of true democracy. On a fine day, then suddenly came the report on telecom operators like AirTel and Vodofone charging extra levy on voice calls from its networks using some of the common communication applications like WhatsApp, Skype, etc. Only these telecom operators charged for their services. All other service providers remained net neutral. What came as the surprise to the people was the way Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) formulated certain rules. These newly coined rules clearly aim to help certain telecom operators in India. If implemented in the current form, it would lead to the selective serving of contents in the cyber world.
There is an unwritten rule that people using cyber resources have followed to assure equal opportunities for all, irrespective of origin, caste or financial status. This principle states that the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and Government agencies should treat all the data on the Internet equally without charging or discriminating people based on users, sites, contents, platforms, types of equipment or applications. This term was first coined by Columbia University Professor Tim Wu. He formed this principle to augment the common belief that Internet is a common carrier that binds everybody in this world.
Issue of Net Neutrality
The whole issue of net neutrality came out in the public domain when mobile operators like AirTel and Vodofone tried to charge their subscribers who started to use calling apps such as WhatsApp, Skype, etc. to contact people using their Internet network. To milk the existing customers, these telecom operators started to levy extra charges on calls made. As expected, there was a hue and cry from people who wanted to keep this medium free of such distortions. Everything seemed to have died down for a while. Again the issue started cropping up when the TRAI released a formal consultation paper on Regulatory Framework for Over-the-top (OTT) services. Through this paper, the telecom ombudsman sought to get suggestions from the public. The analysts in the field tried to highlight the one-sided approach taken by the ombudsman through this consultative paper. They also highlighted the confusing statements that could in future be misinterpreted by the telecom operators to fleece the ordinary citizens in the cyber world. This would lead in the long run to the killing of creativity and the airing of independent views in the cyber world. If the power is given to the telecom operators, they can selectively offer services to people, favouring somebody who pays for them.
This consultative paper drew condemnation from all around the country. This time around even the politicians joined hands with hapless citizens in condemning the telecom ombudsman for bringing out with such a vague and watered down the paper on Regulatory Framework for OTT. They alleged that the TRAI is trying to help some telecom operators who have started levying additional cost on VOIP services given through their network. To channel the call data into a funnel, they even made separate data packages. This forced the netizens to speak out openly against this move in the social media network. Adding to the fire, the TRAI Chairman told the media that there was no rule in our country to dissuade the telecom operators from charging for the call through the Internet. Instead of framing the rule to assure the net neutrality, the TRAI Chairman tried to take sides with the telecom operators like AirTel and Vodofone. This is the time for all of us to come in unison to fight for our rights and freedom in the cyber world.