According to news reports, the final report on Net Neutrality, submitted by telecom department panel is set to be made public in a few days. We take a look at how the issue has panned out over the past couple of months.
On June 2, Telecom Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had said that the report will be made public in a few days.
“Yes, they (the panel) have submitted the report to me. In few days time, the report will be put on the website, you can see and access it. I have asked the Secretary to send a copy to TRAI, so that they can also have a look at it,” Prasad said at the press meet.
Apart from the six-member committee appointed in January this year by DoT, sectoral regulator TRAI had also invited comments from stakeholders on issues like Net neutrality and regulation of OTT services like WhatsaApp and Skype. Net Neutrality.
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While TRAI’s paper did not cause much of an outrage at first, when reports came about Airtel Zero programme and Flipkart’s decision to be a partner in it, suddenly Net Neutrality became a buzz word in India. An online campaign SaveTheInternet.in went viral with lakhs of people signing up the petition.
While Flipkart later withdrew from Airtel Zero, but Airtel defended its programme saying it was not violating net neutrality because it would help widen Internet access to those who cannot afford expensive data packs. Airtel aside, Facebook found itself dragged in to the Net Neutrality debate as well thanks to its own Internet.org programme which is another zero-rating platform.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO took to his social media site to defend Internet.org, saying that zero-rating was to help more people come online and that Internet.org was not a violation of Net Neutrality. He argued that Internet.org could co-exist with principles of Net Neutrality.
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Net Neutrality as a principle says that ISPs must treat all data packets equally. A Zero-rating app where certain services are offered at zero-charge are technically a violation of the principle and activists argue that this can create a walled garden and restricts the free, open Internet.
While telecom operators have argued that OTT services need to be subject to the same regulations as they are, given that the use of these services is affecting their revenue, others have pointed out that telecom operators have seen their revenue rise with the increasing use of data packs.
Additionally in May, a Parliamentary Committee also discussed the issue of net neutrality with officials of telecom companies like Airtel, Vodafone and Idea being present. The Standing Committee of Parliament examined the issue.
Also TRAI released all the responses sent on its paper calling for regulation of OTT services. Over 1 million mails were reportedly sent to the Telecom Authority.
So far a final stance taken by the government has not yet been released to the public, even though the issue managed to garner a lot of media attention and interest on the web. It remains to be seen if India will go for a Net Neutrality law or will it have a new system to allow for zero-rating apps as well.