#SaveTheInternet, again.

Minor updates to the copy of this page were made on September 11, and September 13 based on suggestions from our community. Archived versions of the page can be found here.

Telecom operators are lobbying the Indian telecom regulator TRAI to force online services to pay them network usage fees, and bring some online services under a telecom licence.

Net neutrality is under threat.

Last month, TRAI released a consultation paper proposing the regulation, licensing, and banning of online communication services, and some of the comments it received on the paper are alarming. The likes of Reliance Jio, Airtel, Vodafone Idea and BSNL are pushing for a “same service, same rules” argument to levy the same obligations as telecom operators face in India on online services — simply because these services are delivered “on top” of their infrastructure. Additionally, telcos want to charge them a network fee, just like they did in 2015.

This would violate net neutrality.

There is no other way to put it: our internet is in crisis, and we need to save it again. #SaveTheInternet

A few clicks to #SaveTheInternet

Write to TRAI

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Write to TRAI to #SaveTheInternet

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[If the above method doesn’t work for you, please find the relevant details for sending the email, including the draft text for counter-comments here]

The recommendation given by TSPs would imply imposing service licences on everything OTT — communication apps like WhatsApp or Signal at the least, payment apps such as PayTM, broadcasting platforms like Netflix or Mubi, and a range of other services — for them to be able to operate in India. The telcos are in agreement that OTT services, apps and websites may be selectively banned at source and without implicating the underlying telecom service provider in the process. At the outset, the consultation paper fails to capture the vast and vibrant world of internet-based apps and services by condensing it to “OTT”, and is further misguided in suggesting regulation and licences. In 2016, TRAI took measures to safeguard online service and content providers from differential pricing and unfair competition, which continues to ensure an open, free and neutral internet. But now, TRAI’s policy objective seems to align with telcos’ interests. Submissions made by telcos further confirm that imposing licences on OTTs will only profit a chosen few. Us users, on the other hand, only stand to lose.

Bringing OTT apps under licences and imposing high operation costs upon them may drive smaller players out of the market, limiting user choice and preference, or leading to a spike in usage or subscription fees. And that fundamentally threatens net neutrality. What’s more, data-secure apps like Signal may find themselves on thin ice with authorities who may require them to break end-to-end encryption or implement customer verification. In summary: this policy move may jeopardise user privacy and autonomy, restrict innovation, and concentrate power in the hands of a few.

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