Net Neutrality and the Right of equal access

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India TRAI has released a consultation paper on over the top services (OTT )imposing regulatory framework on internet services . The writing on the wall is clear; if the recommendations are accepted , telecommunication companies may
a. discriminate between different apps and services
b. use subtler mechanisms such as throttling or strangulating services or
c. simply block websites or content

All these actions are against the basic fabric of the internet as –
a. The core design of the internet is to make the best effort to transmit every data packet irrespective of its content.
b. internet governance is a multi-stakeholder arrangement  or understanding with ICANN , IGF-internet governance forum constituted by UN , ITU – international telecommunications union , governments, private companies and civil society , each having a stake and no single entity can monopolise its governance.
c. Internet promotes openness and transparency in communications and telecom companies should not be allowed to regulate what we see and hear on the internet as this will amount to private censorship in flagarant violation of Art. 19 (1) (a) of the constitution guaranteeing freedom of speech and expression.

Further it is evident that the net neutrality debate hinges on commercial interests vs consumer interest and as held by the hon’ble supreme court in the famous 2G scam judgment that governments cannot allow commercial interests of telecommunication companies to outweigh public interest, the government cannot be allowed to endorse the alteration of the internet to the detriment of the consumers.

Around the world, net neutrality is receiving mixed signals . The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released revised guidelines in year 2015 in support of net neutrality. However several EU states have recently pushed forward a proposal that enables –
a. Creation of slow and fast lanes
b. allowing paid prioritisation and discriminatory features
c. Blocking of content by ISPs

This clearly will have the chilling effect of the freedom of speech and expression and thus be a violation of a basic human right , will stifle innovation and competition and promote private censorship. If internet access is to be a basic human right , it is important to keep it open with minimum shackles.

Vaishali Bhagwat,
Cyber lawyer and a chevening scholar on cyber policy

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