Free-speech campaigners and internet activists received a major shot in the arm as Odisha MP Tathagata Satpathy lent his support for net neutrality by writing a letter to Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) chairman Rahul Khullar.
Satpathy, who had captured the internet’s charm about a month ago by participating in a free-wheeling chat on a Reddit AMA (ask-me-anything), is a member of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) and was elected from the Dhenkanal constituency. Satpathy was then particularly praised for his Pink Floyd references and his open admission to smoking marijuana during his college days — such candid expressions that we have not come to expect from our elected parliamentarians.
Satpathy’s letter to the TRAI chairman assumes significance as it comes in the backdrop of a raging debate, particularly on social media, over the alleged attempts of telecom companies to introduce differential pricing plans for over-the-top services like WhatsApp, Skype and Viber. Campaigners for a free internet have argued that these companies are trying to clamp down on the internet’s transparency and freedom. While India does not have an existing legislation for net neutrality, TRAI has come up with a consultation paper that seeks views of the public on the matter. The debate, which has whipped up enormous intensity in the last few weeks, is supported by online petitions like this one on change.org which has already garnered more than 1,00,000 signatures.
In his letter, Satpathy argues that he uses the internet in different ways, by using messaging apps to keep contact with his staff, using cloud services to prepare documents and video calling to keep in touch with his constituents.
“Internet forms an integral part of how I do my work, therefore I see this move by TRAI as a threat to my functioning as a representative,” the BJD MP writes in his letter.
He also argues in his letter that charging separately for over-the-top services will be seen as restricting the access to internet. Depicting TRAI’s move as going against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s dream of a digital India, Satpathy writes that the step will be against the “desires of those who wish to make India a modern nation.”
The letter talks about how the net neutrality principle is not an ‘elitist’ problem as it also affects people with affordable smartphones.
“We are a growing country and we should have proper laws in place, not to regulate, but to encourage the use of internet,” he writes.
Read Satpathy’s full letter below.