On Tuesday, Ajit Pai, the head of the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rolled out a plan to repeal the landmark rules regarding net neutrality that were passed in 2015. At present, the rules demand telecom operators to provide free and equal access to the internet to all their users. They do not allow the corporations to gate-keep access to websites.
However, the latest proposal by FCC will enable corporations to monitor access and speed to various websites. In essence, telecom operators may have the right to decide what websites will be accessed by their users, and how fast or slow a particular website will operate. Corporation tie-ups may have a strong influence on these decisions, and this is something that opposes the very definition of Net Neutrality.
Net neutrality is the concept that Internet service providers and governments regulating most of the Internet must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. It does not allow any company or authority to create Internet boundaries based on data girth or other factors.
Just days after the news about this debate rolled out in the media, Indian IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad expressed his own views about Net Neutrality.
He says that the right of Indian citizens to access the internet is “non-negotiable” and their freedom to use the digital platform will not be monitored by the government.
The debate around net neutrality is not new in India. Mark Zuckerberg had proposed the scheme of Internet.org (later renamed as Free Basics) in February 2015. Under this policy, Zuckerberg promised to deliver ‘free and equal’ access to internet for everyone. “If the sun is free… If the air is free… Then why shouldn’t the internet be free?” he had told the Guardian, referring to his plans for India.
Although the proposal advertised free access to the internet, it was ultimately rejected. Under this policy, India would have free access to only 36 websites. It excluded a huge part of the internet. Google, for instance, was not included in the list of 36 websites.
Referring to the proposal in 2015, Prasad was quoted by Hindustan Times as saying, “… India is a democracy, we don’t believe in one gate. We believe in multiple gates. Therefore, this gate locking for India will not be accepted, and I will not allow it. This stems (from) our commitment that Internet must be accessible to all.”
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Gatekeeping of the internet by telecom operators gives them complete authority to load selective websites slower on your browser while favouring the speed of others. It makes you pay more for a faster speed on the internet as opposed to the data plans that give you some specific gigabytes of data with equal speed and free access to all websites.
In this digital age, where the internet has become an integral part of our lives, permitting or restricting access to specific websites violates our rights as users. Several protests have followed the plans by FCC in the USA. Maybe it is time for the US to take an example from India?