Late last night, Mouthshut.com was finally accessible to users in Bangalore and Hyderabad. The review website had been blocked for the past one week without any explanations provided by the internet service provider (ISP), Beam Fibre. The review website has already escalated the matter to TRAI and DoT. Founder and CEO of Mouthshut.com, Faisal Farooqui informed exchange4media yesterday evening that they will pursue legal action against Beam Fibre (which is a part of the ACT Group).
“We received complaints from our visitors based in Bangalore and Hyderabad that they could not visit the website. When we contacted Beam Fiber, a nodal officer confirmed that we had been blocked, but he did not know the reasons behind it,” said Farooqui. He added that despite the officer promising to revert with a reason for the block, no communication has been received from the ISP since the initial contact on Monday.
Even though the block has now been removed, Farooqui does not want to let the larger issue stay unaddressed. When we spoke with him yesterday, he maintained that such incidents set a dangerous precedent and emphasised that they will take “all available legal actions” against the ISP even if the issue is resolved. “Not only will we take legal action, we will escalate it to the Government and public forums. It happened with us today, it could happen with some other website tomorrow. There has to be accountability, especially in a free country like India,” Farooqui affirmed.
“No ISP can block one particular website and that too without prior notice. Even the Government cannot take such a step without giving valid reasons. And a technical glitch cannot affect five lakh people at the same time. Anyway, we have a written confirmation from Beam Fiber that we were blocked,” he further said.
Beam Fiber has a strong presence in Hyderabad, while the parent group, ACT, provides high-speed internet service in Bangalore. Recently, Beam Fiber has been receiving a number of negative reviews for their service quality and currently has 77 per cent negative user reviews on Mouthshut.com.
Recommendations by Mouthshut members have dipped from 60 per cent in 2007 to 15 per cent in 2013, giving rise to the question – is this a case of the ISP carrying out a personal vendetta?
According to the Indian IT Act of 2000, if the Government determines that a website has to be blocked, it can order ISPs to do it. However, there is a prescribed process that needs to be followed and the defaulting website has to be informed about the decision.
In 2011, when certain ISPs had blocked some file-sharing websites without being asked by the DoT, there had been an uproar. The ISPs claimed that the block was due to orders from DoT. However, in the end it turned out to be a misinterpretation of an earlier ‘John Doe’ order by the Delhi High Court to prevent piracy. No ISP can block any website out of its own volition, and if ordered by the Government, it has to intimate the visitors as well as the website.
If Beam Fiber has received an order from DoT, they should have followed the prescribed procedure and if DoT has ordered a ban (for whatever reasons), Mouthshut should have been informed, which does not seem to be the case.
Currently, we can only form conjectures as to the reasons behind blocking of the website in Hyderabad and Bangalore, but the incident clearly highlights the amount of chaos which currently reigns over the Indian internet space and the amount of work that still needs to be done to bring more transparency and responsibility in the ecosystem.