The Internet has become an integral part of all of our lives. We use it to do our work, connect with people and gain knowledge.
You, our representatives, and your parties, also use it to gather research about the issues faced by your constituents, the challenges faced by different parts of our country, and the expert knowledge needed to legislate for India’s future and shape our national decisions. You use it to communicate directly with your supporters.
But today, the Internet in our country is facing the danger of losing its neutrality. Neutrality is vital to ensure that the Internet reaches many more of our fellow Indians, especially the disadvantaged, to ensure that they can gain knowledge and take advantage of is opportunities; it is also vital to those who are using the Internet to innovate and help India grow.
That's why we, a collectve of concerned citizens, have launched a campaign with fellow Indians who wish to ‘Save the Internet’.
SavetheInternet.in is an apolitical collective, where various individuals — journalists, engineers, artists, web developers, policy experts, lawyers — have come together in their personal capacity to voice their concerns with respect to threats to the free and open character of the Internet.
This letter is addressed to parliamentarians who have already taken or are considering taking a position on the recent consultation paper released by the TRAI for Internet licensing and net neutrality.
We are grateful for the support we have received and the various public statements made by several of you which cut across party lines. Through this letter we wish to point out the intent and purpose of SavetheInternet.in campaign and the reasons for the call for a larger network neutrality law in India.
As of 11:30, 22 April 2015, more than 970,000 individuals have sent submissions to TRAI on the present consultation after visiting savetheinternet.in. This is an unprecedented volume of reponse to any public consultation organised by a regulator in India. It reflects public concern about the increasing threats to our Internet.
What are these threats?
- Misplaced arguments calling for additional regulations (nearly a new “license permit raj”) on Internet applications and services; and
- The absence of any network neutrality oversight in India on telecom operators. This presents an existential threat to the way the Internet is accessed in India, by failing to provide for a system to protect the public interest.
The Internet in India is already regulated by many law; many Parliamentarians have often publicly spoken about the comprehensive provisions of the Information Technology Act; many have called for its reform in order to stop over-regulating the innovation and creativity of Indians online. Other sector-specific laws overseen by the RBI and IRDA — such as regulations about online payments, the banking industry, and insurance — already exist. Despite this clear intent by Parliament and our Government as a whole, TRAI’s current paper has called for such regressive measures as licensing Internet sites and apps. Such a proposal would not only throttle consumer choice, it will kill all innovation and hinder the rapid growth of India’s technology sector, destroying the future of tens of thousands of entrepreneurs and hardworking young IT professionals, along with . We therefore oppose any measure calling for the licensing of the Internet.
The second prong of the TRAI consultation revolves around network neutrality. Net neutrality requires that the Internet be maintained as an open platform, on which network providers treat all content, applications and services equally, without discrimination. This principle, which preserves the free and open character of the Internet, has been recognised by several fellow democracies, including Brazil, the United States, a number of South American countries, and has support from the European Parliament.
The Government of India and TRAI need to urgently commit to a policy which outlines how net neutrality will be safeguarded. Some telecom companies operating in our country are increasingly engaging in commercial and technical practices which violate network neutrality, to the detriment of consumer interest, free competition and innovation between Internet businesses. In particular, attention needs to be paid to the recent practice of “zero rating” some select services, where access to specific web sites or online applications are given for free at the discretion of the telecom operator. Several countries have chosen to carefully oversee and regulate this practice of zero rating services, or have given only case-by-case approvals to ensure that they do not skew incentives and create entry barriers for young entrepreneurs. Zero rating also affects user behaviour, destroying the free and open nature of the internet.
It is also surprising for us that telecom companies have shown little respect for TRAI's consultation process; some are already rolling out and announcing such services. This is unfortunate. It appears to be with a view towards consolidating violations of network neutrality as a norm.
We request all parliamentarians and political parties to urgently call for a policy of forbearance on such practices enforced by TRAI while the present consultation is progressing*. Let TRAI do its job
Finally, we urge, with the utmost humility, that — just like the Internet — the present effort should not to be appropriated by any individual, organisation or political party.
We are an apolitical group and do not have any party allegiances, but we are grateful at the support shown to our concerns by political leaders across India’s political spectrum. We hope the cause of a free and open Internet continues receiving support from all people committed to our democracy.