Sometime in the next 24 hours, India will mark a massive milestone in digital activism. That moment will come when the ‘Save The Internet’ campaign crosses a record one million emails in what has been called the #MillionMailMission to protect net neutrality.
Internet users are currently bombarding the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) with 50 emails per minute and the campaign is just a few thousand emails short of a million.
“It is the largest ever campaign conducted in this country within the shortest span of time — just over 10 days,” said Bangalore-based Kiran Jonnalagadda, one of the volunteers who spearheaded the online crusade.
“It is a historic mandate for net neutrality,” said Sharmila Srinivas, a college student in Bangalore who has egged on her friends to mail TRAI.
Net neutrality is a principle that ordains that internet providers give all content and applications the same access without favouring particular apps or websites. On Wednesday, even Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi waded into the net neutrality debate in Parliament, saying that “the government wants to divide the internet among big industrialists”.
India has about 300 million internet users and over two-thirds of them access the internet through their cellphones. The emails have been in response to TRAI seeking public opinion on its proposal to allow the country’s telecom-cum-internet providers to charge differently for different uses of data. This means charging certain rates for email or internet browsing, and even more for use of apps like Whatsapp, Viber and Skype, whose rampant use has hit internet providers’ bottom lines in recent quarters.
But the backlash has forced Indian companies to distance themselves from Facebook’s Internet.org, an initiative to make selective content free to users, as well as Airtel Zero, a platform by the country’s largest internet provider, Airtel, wherein certain companies pay to make their services available to users.
What is remarkable is that the ‘Save The Internet’ campaign has been run by about four dozen professionals countrywide, who have taken time off their work schedules to organise the massive online dissent. Jonnalagadda, for instance, runs a platform for coders.
The campaign is singular in that it is only through social media – ironically, the same social networks that campaigners claim are subverting net neutrality in India. “We have not taken to the streets or gone offline,” said Jonnalagadda.
“It is one million emails to TRAI minus any trolling or harassing, quite unprecedented for digital activism,” said Nikhil Pahwa, editor of the Delhi-based MediaNama, which covers mobile and the internet.
When the campaign started, volunteers had hoped to reach 15,000 emails to TRAI, but to cross a million in 10 days was beyond their expectations. “It shows the magnitude of concern… the way we use the internet today may be destroyed because a few telecom operators want to take control of how we access the internet and, more importantly, what we access online,” said Pahwa.
The campaigners are asking Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene and help ensure that the internet, which helped garner massive support for his election victory, remains free of influence and manipulation.