We recently wrote to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) and the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) about net neutrality. In our letter to TRAI, we expressed our sincere appreciation for actions taken to uphold net neutrality in India. In our letter to DoT, we conveyed our concerns with regard to the steps that still need to be taken to protect and uphold net neutrality.
Why should you care?
The principle of net neutrality requires internet service providers to treat all content equally without prioritising access to any one platform by creating “fast lanes” or by blocking/throttling access to others. Keeping the net neutral is essential for innovation as otherwise, newer or small/medium-sized companies will struggle to compete with rich corporations that could negotiate deals enabling faster/better access to content on their sites
In 2014, Indian Redditors began discussing net neutrality when Airtel decided to charge extra for Voice Over IP (VoIP) services like Skype. This discussion led to the launch of netneutrality.in, a website that explained the importance of net neutrality and Airtel’s threat to it. After seeing public outrage and discussion, Airtel withdrew its decision and this marked the first time that the principles of net neutrality gained mainstream media and public attention. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), after being urged by the public and telcos alike, agreed to a public consultation on the issue of net neutrality. This paper was made public on 27th March 2015. The SaveTheInternet campaign is a volunteer-led effort to uphold a fair and open Internet. Save The Internet volunteers created an abridged version of the paper and the campaign went into full swing when savetheinternet.in, a platform to submit comments to the TRAI consultation paper, was launched and pushed out by the comedy collective All India Bakchod. Through various interventions and with the support of the public, dozens of influencers, organisations, and experts, in early 2016, we won a large part of our net neutrality campaign when TRAI announced that differential pricing would be banned in India.
However, while Indian authorities incorporated net neutrality within legal and licensing systems, the actual implementation of the framework remains largely non-existent. To remedy this on January 2, 2020, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India commenced a consultation on the scope of reasonable traffic management practices and a proposed multi-stakeholder body for net neutrality. The process was meant to define acceptable instances where your internet provider is allowed to block, slow down (throttle) or prioritise certain types of internet traffic. If not carefully crafted, it can lead to wide exceptions and inadvertently leave the net neutrality principle impotent.
What are we doing now?
- Letter to TRAI: We wrote to TRAI to express our appreciation for upholding net neutrality in access to internet services for Indian consumers by recommending the establishment of a Multi-Stakeholder Body (“MSB”). The MSB is envisaged to play an advisory role to DoT in handling the enforcement of net neutrality principles, complaints registered by consumers, and conflicts that arise among stakeholders of the internet ecosystem. Moreover, it may also advise the DoT regarding monitoring and enforcement of net neutrality principles and submit requisite reports to DoT based on monitoring and investigations. However, it is unfortunate to note that the DoT is yet to act on the recommendations made by TRAI even though, in response to DoT’s letter dated 25.06.2021 where it had raised concerns on the list of TMPs not being provided and challenges on the establishment and operationalisation of MSB, TRAI had reiterated its previous stand on the establishment of an MSB. There is an increasingly pertinent need for an independent body in light of the arbitrary blocking of several websites by Internet Service Providers (“ISPs”), wherein they are either not complying with blocking orders or arbitrarily blocking websites without any legal orders. This is in clear violation of the net neutrality principles. Further, with 5G technology being adopted in the near future, there are concerns that it will affect consumer experience and net neutrality. Recently, speaking at a panel discussion, the Director-General of the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), SP Kochhar said that tailoring networks for specific use cases - which is a uniqueness of 5G technology - will be in direct contradiction to net neutrality laws in India. Therefore, it is important that TRAI again affirm its stand that the net neutrality principles adopted shall remain technology-neutral.
- Letter to DOT: We wrote to DoT to request them to take the necessary steps to establish a Multi-Stakeholder Body (“MSB”) as mentioned in their letter on Net Neutrality Regulatory Framework with reference number No 12-30/NT/2015/OTT (Pt) dated July 31, 2018, which stated that “DoT shall establish a multi-stakeholder body with framework for collaborative mechanism among the stakeholders” as well as in TRAI’s “Recommendations on Traffic Management Practices (“TMPs”) and MultiStakeholder Body for Net Neutrality” dated September 22, 2020. In this set of recommendations, TRAI had also stated that the DoT may establish an MSB to ensure that Internet Access Providers adhere to the provisions of net neutrality in their licence.
We will keep fighting for net neutrality!
On March 18, 2019, we re-activated SaveTheInternet.in. This decision was taken in light of the continuous violation of Net Neutrality in the form of website blockings by various ISPs through the months of December, 2018 and March, 2019. SaveTheInternet.in includes a reporting tool for the public to send reports of any instances of blockings or forms of network interference that may be violative in nature. In addition, it provides individuals and organisations with the opportunity to show support to a list of joint demands, which are then sent to the relevant government offices through the “Take Action Petition”. The campaign aims to ensure TRAI and DOT devise the necessitated enforcement mechanisms in efforts to maintain the principles of Net Neutrality in India.
- Letter of appreciation to TRAI on recommendations to uphold net neutrality dated June 10, 2022 (link)
- Letter to DoT requesting the establishment of a multi-stakeholder body to uphold net neutrality in India dated June 10, 2022 (link)