After 11 months of nail-biting proceedings, speculations and discussions, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has recently ruled in favor of Net Neutrality and against Facebook’s Free Basics. This decision has come up as a gift for those who campaigned in favor of net neutrality. One such campaign was the “Save the Internet” campaign, where people could vote for net neutrality and those against it could also counter-comment.
For those who haven’t quite been following the topic and by now are probably wondering what all the above refers to, Net Neutrality is the concept of equality for internet consumers on being able to use the it as they choose to, without any barriers or extra payments to be made for any specific content. On the other hand, Free Basics or internet.org as it was known earlier, is the concept of providing select web services for free and charging for other services.
While the idea of free internet enticed a huge lot considering that 80% of India is still offline and many of them are yet to experience the internet for the first time, many stood against it, even though that means internet will remain chargeable. As per them, they are doing it for the long term benefits. Distinguished charging will only mean that telecom players or such similar controlling bodies may end up charging more for specific sites/services, while they may offer another set of specific services for free. This is to some extent, clearly a type of lobbying, where certain content is favored and the competition’s content is made costlier to access. It’s no surprise that this will give rise to favoritism of content, on what should ideally be a level playground for all, the internet.
This may also create strong entry barriers for new players, while making it easier for influential and existing players to stay on top, and face very little or no competition. Lesser competition will also affect innovation, and that is not something we want as consumers now, do we.
We can’t create a two-tier internet – one for the haves, and one for the have-nots. We must connect everyone to the full potential of the open web. We call on companies and the government of India to work with citizens and civil society to explore new approaches to connect everyone as active users, whether through free data allowances, public access schemes or other innovative approaches, says Renata Avila, Program Manager for the Web We Want campaign.
The actual reason behind the big denial is also speculated to be the way Facebook chose to stay undisclosed about certain information being sought and queries being raised by TRAI. Apparently, TRAI had raised a few queries about differential pricing and ensuring transparency, to which Facebook did not provide a clear response.
While this ruling would probably be taken to higher authorities for reconsideration, the current standpoint remains that Free Basics is not going to be implemented in India at the moment. Let us know your thoughts and views about this ruling in the comment box below.