On a day when Prime Minister Narendra Modi shared the Digital India stage with a host of telecom bosses, consumer representatives slammed those companies in the meeting of the standing committee on communication and information technology, discussing the net neutrality issue.
Seven representatives of the “Save the Internet” campaign — started after a consultation paper of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India proposed to differentially price net access— told the committee as to why it is in the country’s interest that the government resist the business tactics of these firms that would rob net users of the freedom to log on to apps and websites of their choice.
When committee chairman Anurag Thakur tried to rationalise that telecom companies needed differential pricing for net access to make up for the losses they have suffered because people have stopped using mobile phones on roaming while travelling abroad, activists retorted saying it is not the calls but the data which is the real source of revenue. It is exactly the pricing which is the bone of contention in the net neutrality debate, they told him.
The report of the Department of Telecom which is under preparation, sources say, is likely to be in favour of licensing arrangements for service providers for use of apps – that is against net neutrality. Incidentally government had not invited any representatives of consumer groups in the earlier meetings. It took a furore by opposition members who had questioned how the committee could come to a decision on such a crucial issue listening only to industry representatives, whose brainchild the differential pricing is.
At a meeting in May, BJP veteran L K Advani had spoken out against the government for not inviting consumer groups in the meeting. It was because of the outburst in that meeting of opposition members — supported by Advani — that civil society representatives were called on Wednesday’s meeting. MPs have now asked for representatives of Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp etc also to be called to depose before the committee.
Most political parties have supported net neutrality as a concept on the floor of the Parliament, but so far only Trinamool Congress has made its stance clear on that count in the committee. Left is also said to have passed an internal resolution in favour of net neutrality. The standing committee meeting which went on for the entire day, started off with 19 MPs, but it was reduced to six post lunch.