Amid a raging debate on providing equal Internet access to all, the government has set up an expert panel to look into the issues of “Net neutrality” and a report on the matter is expected in a month’s time.
Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said telecom sector regulator Trai is holding wide consultations on the issue and its report is also awaited.
“Trai is undertaking a consultation on the issue of Net neutrality. Trai being an advisory body, their advice is certainly entitled to our respect, which I am awaiting,” Prasad told reporters here.
Net neutrality implies equal treatment be accorded to all Internet traffic and no priority should be given to any person or entity or company based on payment, which is seen as discriminatory.
Prasad further said: “Way back in January itself, I have also constituted a committee headed by senior government officials of the Telecom Ministry to give me a report on the whole gamut of net neutrality objective, its benefits, advantages and limitations including the regulatory and technical issues.
“I have asked them to give me a report by the second week of May after the widest consultation possible including online to help government come to an informed decision on this issue. Since I am awaiting these reports, it will not be proper for me to make any comment.”
Net Neutrality, an widely debated issue globally, has in the past few days caught India’s attention with politicians, corporate leaders and film stars taking to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to debate on the issue. Net neutrality gained national attention after Internet activists and experts flagged Telecom giant Bharti Airtel ‘Airtel Zero’.
Airtel Zero is an open marketing platform that allows customers to access a variety of mobile applications for free, with the data charges being paid by start-ups and large companies.
Social media saw a huge debate on Airtel Zero with experts and free Internet advocates saying that the product violates principles of net neutrality.
Also over the last few months, operators like Reliance Communications and Uninor have tied up with players like Facebook, WhatsApp and Wikipedia to offer free usage to consumers.
Prasad added that Internet is one of the finest creations of the human mind and it is a property of the entire human race and not of any country or society.
“Internet to become entirely global should have a link to local and when we talk of digital inclusion it must be available to the underprivileged and on the margins,” Prasad added. In January this year, the government had set up a six-member committee headed by A K Bhargava, Member (Technology), following some operators bid to charge extra for voice call services like Skype and Viber. Countries like the US, Chile, Netherlands and Brazil have already adopted Net Neutrality.
Last month, Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) also started the process to prepare regulatory framework for Internet-based calling and messaging applications like Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Google Talk, known as over-the-top (OTT) players.
The regulator has sought views of people interested in the matter by April 24 and counter comments by May 8.