Govt. May Include Net Neutrality As Part Of Telecom License Conditions; Assures Fair Internet Access For All
All the protests and agitations against discriminatory Internet plans by telecom companies are not going down the drain: The Government is listening; and committed to the cause of Net Neutrality.
In one of the most strongly worded support for free and fair Internet usage in India, the Government has assured the nation that net neutrality will be protected at any cost. In fact, net neutrality may very well be included as one of the conditions for granting telecom licenses in India; a move which can completely change the course of the movement.
Trinamool MP Derek O’Brien started the discussion in Rajya Sabha regarding the anti-net neutrality schemes formulated by the telecom players, and TRAI’s support for them. Soon, 16 other MPs raised questions, and questioned Government’s intensions in the whole saga.
Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad responded to the questions and said, “As long as this government is in power, Net neutrality will be in existence,”
He said that just like Indian constitution supports Indian citizens’ right of Freedom of Speech and Expression, it also supports the fact that Internet is an open medium and no company has the right to stop it’s freedom.
TRAI Is Not The Final Word
Responding to a question on TRAI’s motive of supporting telecom players in implementing anti-net neutrality plans and packs such as Airtel Zero and Internet.org, Prasad said that TRAI’s functioning and powers are subjected to the overall benefits of the public at large; and in case of any conflicts (such as net neutrality), they can overturn and reject TRAI’s recommendations.
He said, “The government has sufficient powers under the TRAI Act to invoke national policy objectives to give direction to Trai”
On the issue of TRAI making all email ids of those who supported net neutrality public, he said, “The privacy issue, the e-mail ids ought to have been safeguarded, is a question to be considered. I take note of that. In my own way I will try to convey.”
Net Neutrality As Telecom Licenses Condition?
The best reply and solution which the IT Minister proposed was including net neutrality as a pre-condition for allocating telecom licenses. Although not yet official, but Minister Prasad made it clear that if need arises, this can be provisioned to safe-guard the interests of public at large.
He said, “Suppose — it is purely hypothetical; I am not giving my final view — the government comes out with structured guidelines laying down the principles on net neutrality. It can make those guidelines as a part of the licensing condition itself. It is only a hypothetical proposition that I am saying. But all these options are open.”
In case Government approves such a condition for telecom players, then there can be no question of anti-net neutrality plans and schemes being initiated by greedy telecom players.
Recognizing that net neutrality is a major issue, which needs Government’s support to thwart attempts to enslave Internet, he said, “If the issue did not have nuances to it, why then would experts and regulators all over the world be breaking their heads over it.”
It seems that the Govt. is conducting it’s own investigation and research into the issue of net neutrality. Minister informed the Parliament that there are three categories of nations when it comes to regulating freedom of Internet: Countries which have no specific rules such as Australia, South Korea and New Zealand; Countries which have light-handed measures such as European countries, Japan and UK; and Countries which have strict regulations to implement net neutrality such as USA, Brazil and Netherlands.
We certainly wish that India is categorized in the last group of countries.
IT Ministry has already formulated a panel to look into the issues pertaining to implementation of Net Neutrality in India, and they will submit their report on May 9th.
We will keep you updated as more details come in.
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