Can you imagine a world with two Internets — the first a quick, smooth highway for those who pay more, and the other a slow, bumpy trail for everybody else? Would you be amenable to paying a fee to be able to stream YouTube videos at full speed or simply wait endlessly for the videos to buffer?
In January, a US federal court struck down the “net neutrality rules” put in place by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) in 2010. The rules had been designed to prevent the nation’s largest broadband service providers from charging content companies for access to Internet “fast lanes”. The ruling allows Internet service providers (ISPs) to sell faster download speeds to the highest bidder — even if access to other websites slows to a crawl
What is it?
Net neutrality or “net neutrality” is the principle that data packets on the Internet should be moved impartially, without regard to content, destination or source. Everybody who accesses the Internet does so through an ISP.
Web activists around the world claim that now access to the Internet is a fundamental human right. Thus it is important to ensure that the Internet remains a free and open platform that promotes innovation, competition and user’s interest.
One of the most important features of the Internet and the way it grew over the years is its openness: Users can surf any site or download anything they want. ISPs did not differentiate between various kinds of content and choose who gets the best access. However, ISPs don’t want to stay neutral anymore and say this is essentially a free-enterprise issue. They argue that they provide a service and, therefore, should be able to decide how to deliver it and how they charge customers for it. As of now, content providers don’t pay different rates in accordance with the kind of content they provide. If the Internet will no longer be neutral, an ISP will give preference to those who pay more. Also, if ISPs start charging a premium to websites, you can be assured the cost will be passed on to customers.
At global level?
There are few countries that have laws regarding net neutrality. Chile was the first country to approve a law that proscribes an ISP from blocking, discriminating or restricting the right of any consumer from using, sending, receiving or offering content. Denmark passed a law recently which prohibits ISPs from charging higher fees, impeding or slowing down applications and websites. It also states that an ISP needs to get consent of the user before placing cookies on their computer, protecting the data of the user.
The term ‘net neutrality’ was coined by Columbia law professor Tim Wu. The concept dates back to the 1800s when Almon Brown Strowger invented an automatic telephone exchange to bypass operators who redirected calls for profit.
Law in India?
India does not have a law regarding net neutrality nor has it moved towards creating one.
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), in its guidelines for issuing licences for providing Unified Access Service, promotes the principle of non-discrimination but does not enforce it.
The Information Technology Act does not provide regulatory provisions relating to Internet access, and does not expressly prohibit an ISP from controlling the Internet to suit their business interests.
With the advent of 3G and the unprecedented growth of Internet users in India, the chances of networks getting clogged have become higher.
In such circumstances, it is possible that an ISP may impose certain types of premium rent on download or surfing.
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