Even as TRAI backs Net Neutrality in India, FCC to vote today to scrap open Internet in the US

The US FCC is expected to vote on December 14 to scrap the landmark net neutrality rules championed by former US President Barack Obama in 2015

e4m by Nishant Saxena
Updated: Dec 14, 2017 8:51 AM

With its recommendations on November 28, TRAI has not just backed the idea of Net Neutrality, which is free and open internet, but has also made it a hot topic of discussion again.

In order to understand TRAI’s recommendations, one needs to first understand the idea of Net Neutrality and why repealing it is going to be a bad idea.

What is Net Neutrality or Network Neutrality?

Net Neutrality is “the principle that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should enable access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or blocking particular products or websites,” as per the Oxford English dictionary.

So basically, Net Neutrality is the principle that ensures fair competition in the online world and maintains a level playing field.

What’s the debate?

Today, in most parts of the world, a customer pays for data and gets access to internet. The customer is free to visit any website of his/her choice, be it big players like Facebook.com or Youtube.com or even an old man's blog where he shares interesting anecdotes from his childhood.

Giving his perspective on the debate, Sunil Kumar Gupta, Secretary, TRAI, told exchange4media, “We want to respect the freedom of consumer and that freedom should be available with the consumer to choose which website he wants to visit. Nobody can force him to visit particular websites. And that’s what we want to support.”

However, in some countries like Portugal, instead of paying for data and accessing internet as a whole, customers pay for selected websites or may choose a bouquet of their choice. As shown in the image below:

The biggest problem with repealing Net Neutrality is that it will allow monopolisation of the internet by very few big players and hit small workers in the online space hard.

“Consumers have got their rights (to access any website) unless a website has been barred by the court of law,” Gupta said.

Why is the TRAI recommendation important?

TRAI’s recommendation is quite important because it endorses the principle of non- discrimination on the internet.

“What you (Internet Service Providers) are trying to do is create silos and these silos are not the network and Net Neutrality is primarily related to the network,” said Gupta, defending TRAI’s stand on the issue.

TRAI has also recommended the service providers to restrict from “entering into any arrangement, agreement or contract” that have the effect of “discriminatory treatment based on content.” This also includes practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds or treatment to any content.

Also, this recommendation officially clarifies India’s stand on the global debate of protecting network neutrality.

Why the US is worried and should others be too?

In 2014, former US President Barack Obama had urged the US regulatory Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take up the strongest possible rules to protect Net Neutrality. The rules were adopted in 2015.

However, just few days before TRAI’s recommendation, Ajit Pai, chairman of FCC, unveiled that he plans to rollback Net Neutrality.

This would give ISPs the freedom to experiment with new pricing models and prioritisation of content.

The FCC will vote today (December 14) to repeal Net Neutrality. Under the proposal by Pai, a Republican appointed by US President Donald Trump, the bulk of the job of protecting the web will be turned over to the US Federal Trade Commission. 

If the FCC succeeds in revoking Net Neutrality in the US, there is a possibility that others might  blindly follow suit. This would mean no free communication as the ISPs would be allowed to block messages or websites.

Loss of voice, loss of opportunity

Unlike mainstream media, open internet gives an equal voice to all. It was because of Net Neutrality that important protests and gatherings could be organised at a moment’s notice.

Today, an entrepreneur, irrespective of the how small the investment is, gets equal opportunity on the Internet, just as much as any giant player on the Net. Facebook too became the social media giant that it is today because neutrality on Internet over the years allowed it to grow, so is the case with many other start-ups.

While discussing the disadvantages of having Internet without neutrality, Gupta asked, “If some websites are provided by one provider, some others are provided by a second provider and another set of websites are provided by another provider, how many sim cards should I buy?”

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