What the Block?! IFF has heard your complaints and is taking action #SaveTheInternet

Tl;dr

IFF received multiple complaints of irregular website blocking by ISPs in Bengaluru and Hyderabad. The ISPs, namely ACT and BSNL, justified some of these instances as responses to directions issued by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). Since this appears to be a breakdown of enforcement machinery to the detriment of the network neutrality, IFF has written to officials within the DoT and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) to take up the matter and remedy the situation.

What Happened?

On March 04 and 05, 2020 IFF received or got wind of multiple complaints of websites being blocked by internet providers in both Bengaluru and Hyderabad.

In Bengaluru, BSNL was reportedly blocking the www.bbc.co.uk domain. According to a screenshot seen by IFF, access to the site was blocked based on direction from the DoT. Additionally, ACT was seen to be blocking user access to sites like thequint.com, eastmojo.com, and onlinebsm.com. We got another independent complaint that ACT was blocking access to blogs hosted on name.weebly.com.

Similarly, in Hyderabad we received a complaint which demonstrated that ACT was blocking access to an open source web developer site called Bootstrap with the domain name www.getbootstrap.com. The justification provided in this instance was that the site was blocked as per directions from the DoT.

Our Analysis

Any DoT website blocking order for any of these sites remains absent in the public domain. This we feel is not aligned with the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India’s judgement in Anuradha Bhasin v Union of India (dated January 10, 2020) which essentially tells Government that orders which block people’s access to the internet should be put out in the public domain. Moreover, some (if not all) of these sites are unlikely to have content which can be blocked as per established thresholds which are prescribed under Section 69A of India’s Information Technology Act, 2000.

Alternatively, we suspect that this is a common tactic of ISPs to invoke Government directions, which could be used as a front for arbitrary website blocking. If correct, the aforementioned instances are clear violations of net neutrality obligations under existing licensing requirements. The net neutrality principle has been incorporated into the scheme of internet and telecom licenses since July 2018. It mandates your internet provider to not indulge in discriminatory treatment of internet traffic. Discriminatory treatment has been clarified in the licenses to include practices like blocking, degrading, slowing down or granting preferential speeds/treatment to any content.

What have we done?

IFF has written letters to the DoT’s Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring (TERM) Cells in Bengaluru and Hyderabad to take up the matter. We have also copied these letters to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) since they just completed a consultation which deliberates on issues relating to net neutrality enforcement.

What’s next and how can you help?

IFF will continue to keep monitoring the situation and take up the issues with authorities if required. For this, we need your help. We have relaunched the net neutrality violation reporting mechanism on the SaveTheInternet.in website. Should you feel your ISP is blocking your favourite websites, certain proxies, VPNs, or is slowing down certain streaming sites, P2P file sharing platforms, we urge you to report it to us. All you have to do is visit this link here and answer a few quick questions. We will keep monitoring your responses and it will help us meaningfully take the conversation with authorities and get them to hold your ISPs accountable.

We’ve got your back folks! We will continue to fight this as long as is required.

Important Documents

  1. Link to IFF’s complaint filed with the DoT TERM Cell in Bengaluru, which has been copied to TRAI (click here)
  2. Link to IFF’s complaint filed with the DoT TERM Cell in Hyderabad, which has been copied to TRAI (click here)Link to the SaveTheInternet’s net neutrality violation reporting form (click here)

We've got your back folks! Our objective is to keep your internet experiences fair, open and private. You too can jump on the cause and #SaveTheInternet. Help us by joining forces and becoming an IFF Member today!